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Pet custody can be emotionally challenging in divorce

The end of a marriage can be an emotional roller coaster for most people, Washington residents included. For some people, divorce may be worse if the fate of a beloved pet is involved.

For most animal owners, a pet is a member of the family. Unfortunately, when it comes to property division, no pet is regarded as anything more than an item of property just like furniture and household appliances. Thus, pet custody is not at all like child custody issues. This fact can be challenging for a spouse who has a strong emotional attachment to an animal.

Pet custody is not a new issue in family law, as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has noted. More and more spouses now fight over the custody of their pets. With more than 60 percent of American households now including pets, and 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, the issue is likely to become ever more common during the property division process.

So what can animal lovers do to protect their pets during divorce? For one thing, they can put forth prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that assign the pet to the category of separate property, thus exempting it from property division.

Without a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement, custody can be decided using several factors including which spouse has child custody, who actually cares for the pet and which party has a lifestyle that is more suited to pet ownership.

Unlike child custody, a pet's best interests are not considered when custody is awarded. However, there may be ways in which an animal-loving spouse can keep his or her pet without undue emotional stress and litigation costs.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled in Divorce?,"Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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