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What happens to pets in Washington when their owners divorce?

Nearly two-thirds of American households have a pet, and it is easy to see why. Pets provide unconditional love and companionship for their owners. Many pet owners agree that their beloved furry friends are more than just companions, they are part of the family. So deciding what to do with a family pet after a divorce can be an extremely emotional affair, especially if each spouse wants to keep the pet. What happens to family pets when spouses divorce?

Washington residents may be surprised to learn that, at least in the court's eye, pets are treated as property in a divorce. This may seem strange given the emotional bond between a pet and its owner. Deciding who gets the pet in such situations is not always easy.

When it comes to property division and pets, a spouse can argue that since he or she used his or her own money, earned prior to the marriage, to purchase the pet, he or she should be awarded the pet. However, if the pet was purchased with marital funds, things may be very different. Some courts are even starting to consider factors other than financial ones, such as the best interests of the spouses with regards to the pet and the best interests of the pets themselves. But in general judges will not hold custody hearings for pets.

Sometimes couples reach agreements out-of-court with regards to their pets. For example, they may share custody of the pet, with the pet living with one spouse on some days and with the other spouse on other days. However, such agreements may not necessarily be legally enforceable. In addition, spouses will need to consider the time and expense it costs to properly take care of a pet. Sometimes it is best to allow the pet to remain with the spouse who has the time and financial means to care for it properly.

Getting a divorce comes with all sorts of difficult decisions to make. Deciding what to do with the family pet may be one of them. In the end, it is best not to try to use the pet as a bargaining chip, but to consider who is best able to care for it, be it one spouse or both.

Source: The Detroit News, "Divorce can unleash pet custody battles," Ben Steverman, May 15, 2016

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