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

 Posted on December 05, 2018 in Divorce

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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