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Pets at the center of divorce disputes

As you prepared for your impending divorce, you may have experienced strong emotions. Perhaps the discussion about the fate of your home caused you anguish. Maybe negotiations over spousal support stirred concern about your future. Amid the issues that certainly have swayed your emotions is the dispute over which of you will get to keep the pet.

In a time of high stress, you may have been counting on having that trusted animal to bring you comfort. Now, it appears that your claim to the animal is not a given.

Are pets more like people or property?

In most states, including Florida, pet owners do not have the option of requesting a custody hearing for their pets. During the division of marital assets, the court will typically include a couple's pets among the other belongings, using a similar system to determine which spouse has obvious ownership or more of a financial investment in the animal. This does not always take into consideration any emotional attachment that may exist between you and your pet.

Slowly, however, laws are changing to give pets a higher status than furniture. Legislation in some states asks judges to consider more than the monetary value of an animal during asset division. For example, a judge may take into account the following:

  • Which spouse took care of the animal
  • Which spouse tended to the medical needs of the animal
  • Which spouse has a lifestyle more appropriate for pet ownership

Animal advocates worry that, during asset division, too many spouses fight for the pet just to get back at the other spouse. Since this may place a pet in a hostile situation, advocates are lobbying across the country for changes in divorce laws to be more accommodating to the needs of pets.

Finding support for your battle

The way the court divides your marital assets may determine your standard of life for years to come. Undoubtedly, you want to be sure that you receive the fair share of any real estate, financial accounts, heirlooms or business interests that you deserve. In addition, if it is important that your pet remain with you, you will want the help of a professional who will negotiate for that.

A family law attorney understands that each divorce has its own unique factors. Carefully weighing those factors and fighting for your best interests is the advantage an attorney will bring to your side of the table.

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