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Pet custody cases

Missouri couples who are getting a divorce may find it difficult to settle disputes regarding the division of marital property, especially if the couple has a pet in the mix. Determining who gets to keep the family pet may be an emotional process for all parties involved, and if a couple cannot come to an agreement, the judge will have to make the decision for them.

In recent years, pet ownership has surged, with approximately 179 million dogs and cats living under U.S. roofs. More couples are beginning to include pets in prenuptial agreements. For many couples who are childless, pets have taken the role of children, meaning that both parties are more likely to develop an emotional relationship with the pet. Some divorcing couples even set up visitation schedules and agreements concerning who will take the pet to the vet and other related issues.

In a landmark case in 2013, a New York couple took their dog custody battle to court. One of ex-spouses argued that she had initially owned the dog, while the other ex-spouse argued that she had financially supported the animal. The judge decided to use a different standard than the traditional property claim standard. A one-day hearing was scheduled to determine what was in the best interests of the dog. Additionally, both parties were able to voice concerns over the well-being of their pet.

If there is a pet involved in a property division dispute, a family law attorney may assist a party with providing evidence of proof of ownership and proof that the party has taken responsibility for caring for the pet in the past. If the pet was purchased together with the other party, the attorney may negotiate a visitation or care schedule with the other party so that their client may continue to maintain an emotional relationship with the pet.

Source: USA Today, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles," Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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