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What happens to the family pet in a divorce?

The pet industry generates billions of dollars each year because people tend to treat their animals like members of the family. Therefore, what happens to the family pet in a divorce can cause a significant amount of conflict between the parties. The first thing that California residents should know is that pets are not treated like children -- instead, they are treated as property.

Because pets are considered property in a divorce, it is the laws of property division that will guide the court. Therefore, if the parties wish to have some sort of custody/visitation agreement regarding their pet, it will be up to them to negotiate and document it. This is the case despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of the households in the United States have a pet, according to a survey conducted in 2015 by the American Pet Products Association. In addition, approximately two of every five marriages ends in divorce.

That means that large amounts of people are attempting to determine the fate of their pets when their marriages end. For those who did not have children, their pets most likely played that role for the couple. The emotional attachments developed with a pet can be quite strong, which means that there is a possibility of one party using the pet as a bargaining chip during the division of the marital assets.

If the parties are unable to come to an agreement, a California judge will step in and make a decision on their behalf. Fortunately, judges are increasingly sympathetic to the fact that pets are a member of the family. Therefore, some of them are willing to consider what would be best for the animal in addition to the usual factors, such as who purchased the animal, who spends the most time caring for it and who pays the veterinarian bills, among other factors traditionally used to determine which party will receive a certain item of property in a divorce.

Source: charlotteobserver.com, "In divorce, who gets to keep the family dog?", Ben Steverman, May 1, 2016

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