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Handling pets in divorce cases

According to researchers, about 62 percent of Georgia households and other households across the United States own at least one pet. This pet often becomes an integral part of the family. Children may grow up with a beloved pet and both parents may provide constant care for this four-legged member of the family. However, family pets are relegated to a different area in a divorce case.

Rather than being treated as a beloved part of the family, family pets are classified as personal property in divorce proceedings. Therefore, courts won't usually discuss visitation plans or custody matters regarding pets. Instead, the primary consideration is often the value of the pet when splitting up assets. In some cases, courts might put certain information about pets in a divorce decree, such as requiring one party to pay boarding fees or half of veterinarian bills.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that the number of pet custody disputes have increased over the past several years, and there are various arguments that attorneys put forward on behalf of clients who want to retain the animal. One is based on the idea that one party stays home while the other party has an unpredictable work schedule. In this case, the stay-at-home party may be better suited to provide constant care for an animal. Another consideration is which party will retain primary custody of the children. The court may prefer to keep the pet in the same household where the children will reside.

Statistics reveal that approximately 50 percent of all marriages end in a divorce. When coupled with the high frequency of pet ownership, it is likely that disputes over pet custody during divorce proceedings will become more numerous.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?", Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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