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Property division and pets: navigating disputes over four-legged assets

Among all the things couples have to work out in divorce, determining what will happen to the family pet is no small matter for many couples. Under the law, there is no special treatment for family pets—they are viewed as any other property would be, except that pets very often have little to no market value. For this reason, couples who want to work something out with the family pet usually have to come to an informal agreement.

For couples who are both very attached to a family pet, working out a deal over a family pet will have little to do with getting their fair share of the value of the animal and more to do with retaining a connection with the pet, and that can be problematic. 

In acrimonious divorces, negotiating who takes care of the pet can take on a more acerbic note. One spouse may, for instance, demand a pet he or she knows the other is very attached to in order to hurt the other or to use it as a bargaining chip. While the law doesn’t provide for any special treatment of family pets, judges do have some discretion with how they handle the matter.

For instance, some judges will take the children into account when determining pet. By and large, though, any agreements worked out over pets are largely outside court, as judges will usually not get involved by ordering joint custody arrangements or holding custody hearings for pets.

For couples, it is important to be selective about which battles to fight. Divorce can be costly and time-consuming, and fighting over a family pet—even a beloved one—may not always make sense. That being said, it is also important to fight for the things you care about in divorce. Working with an experienced attorney can help ensure the fighting is more effective.

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