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Pets
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Dogs are often like members of our family.  It's not easy to part with our four legged friends following a separation and divorce.  But, sharing custody can become incredibly challenging amidst the varied circumstances surrounding the average divorce.

Who determines which spouse gets the dog?

Pets are usually awarded to one spouse as part of the asset allocation in the settlement agreement, but, many judges are increasingly beginning to award joint custody of pets to both spouses.  Spouses who choose to maintain a mutual ownership of their pet often determine their own visitation schedule so that each spouse has an agreed upon, set time with the pet.  

Most states do not recognize pets beyond that of marital property despite many spouses requesting custody, visitation or monetary support for the animals.  Currently existing statues governing such matters are only designed to address children, not animals. 

Some states like Alaska are beginning to recognize pets beyond part of the property division schedule in an amendment to Alaska's divorce statutes.  It requires the courts for that state to consider the animal's well being, effectively giving a companion animal value beyond marital property and the opportunity to rule for the pet's best interest.  In this groundbreaking change, the court may award custody to one spouse based on what is best for the dog rather than the owners.

While many courts across the nation continue to struggle to give pet's status beyond property, this amendment is a good start to developing the legal process for the well being of our pets. 

Is it really that hard to share custody of pets?

Pets are not children.  You can't explain the disruption in their routine, environment and care.  Excellent communication is essential since your pet can not talk and tell you it wasn't fed or wasn't feeling well while it was away.   While shared pet custody may seem like the best thing to do for you and your spouse, it may not be the best thing for your pet. 

Before you agree to share custody...  Sometimes pet owners elect a temporary shared custody prior to the divorce, following separation, to determine if it will be reasonable to maintain a permanent shared custody arrangement.  It will either work, fail or be helpful in determining an ideal visitation schedule that works for family and pet.

Is there really something called petimony?

Yes.  Some courts have awarded sole custody of a pet and what is termed "petimony" to the primary custodian of the pet.  This is based on each individual case, court and state.  Consult your local attorney for more information.

What should I consider before I agree to take full custody of our pet?

It's important to realize beyond the value of your pet and beyond the love you have for him or her.  You should determine the best home possible and the best caregiver.  This means if you are moving to a smaller home without a yard or walking area for your pet, perhaps your pet would do better in the original environment.  If you are not financially capable of caring for your pet, than perhaps your spouse will be willing to pay for half or more of your pet's care in lieu of your housing and caring for the pet. 

Unless your spouse is neglectful or abusive to your pet, consider the best home possible, period.  You likely both love your pet.  If one of you would be a better caregiver, you both should come to an agreement that ensures the pet will be adequately provided for by one or both owners and placed in the best home with options for visitation to allow both pet owners time with the pet.  

-OurDMK.com



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