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What happens to your pets when you divorce?

You may think of Fluffy and Sunshine as members of your family. Maybe they are even like your own children. However, Florida law decrees that pets are considered personal property, although a law change in Alaska that determines custody of pets based on their well-being may soon spread to other states.

It is often best if a judge never has to hear your case about who gets the pets. That is, you should try to work out an agreement with your spouse out of court. However, when a judge must rule about pets, he or she does so under the ideas of equitable distribution and personal property.

What a judge may consider

The good news is that many judges take common-sense factors into account when making a ruling. For example, if your marriage produced children, issues such as time sharing and custody would come up, and they might be based in part on optimal living environments, space and stability. The same goes for pet considerations.

Speaking of children, if they are attached to the pet and spend most of their time with one parent, the judge might decide to assign the pet to that parent. The judge might also consider if one partner owned the pet before marriage or which partner primarily cares for the pet. (A partner who owned the pet before marriage, especially if it was for a significant time, is at a big advantage.) No matter what, though, a judge cannot award joint custody. The pet must go to only one partner.

Judges' rulings can be unpredictable, and working on an agreement out of court can produce more predictable results.

If your pets relate to your business

The picture gets even more complicated if your pets were somehow part of your business. Say you work as a horse breeder, for example, or you sell puppies. Then your pets might fall under the category of business assets.

Shared custody considerations

Many couples with shared custody of their children may decide that they will share custody of their pets too, with the pets and children being on the same schedule. Keep your pet's needs in mind, though; for example, a cat going back and forth may fare less well than a dog would. Shared custody can also open up complications such as financial responsibility and who makes vet appointments.

It is possible that your spouse is using the pet to hurt you, for example, threatening to keep Fido who he never spends time with. If you are going through a divorce that has pet considerations, getting in touch with an attorney can help you resolve the matter in a way that is fair to everyone involved.

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