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Divorce and your dog (or cat): What you need to know

Divorce and your dog (or cat): What you need to know

When you and your spouse get divorced, who gets the dog? What about the cat?

In the past, pets were nothing more than property — and their disposition after a divorce was given no more scrutiny than the fine china and silverware. Today, however, there’s an increasing trend in the courts to recognize that pets are — in many real ways — substitute children for a lot of couples. As such — and as living, breathing beings — it’s important to treat their custody after a divorce as a serious matter.

Since 2017 alone, Alaska, Illinois and California have all passed laws that give family court judges the right to consider the well-being of the family pet when deciding who gets custody — not just the person who bought the animal or paid the vet bills. The end result is that more divorcing couples are ending up with custody agreements — even when they don’t have children. In many cases, shared custody of the dog or cat is deemed the only fair way to handle a situation when both halves of a splitting couple seem to have been equally involved in the animal’s life.

When negotiating a custody agreement over the pet, experts caution divorcing couples not to craft a plan that’s too simplistic. While it might seem easy enough to say that time — and bills — get split 50-50, that’s not always a workable agreement. Why should your dog have to stay in a crate, for example, if you work at home and your ex-spouse is gone all day? Vet bills can be tricky to coordinate as well. What if your ex leaves the dog unsupervised and the animal eats a shoe? If the dog needs surgery, should you have to foot the bill even though you never would have let the accident happen on your watch?

If you need help working out a custody agreement for your pet as you divorce — or any other assistance — talk over your goals with an experienced divorce attorney.

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