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Pet custody becoming integral part of divorce cases

Divorcing couples in Pennsylvania and all over the country are expanding their custody agreements to include the family pet. And as families change, so does the question of where the family pet should reside.

In a recent divorce, actress Melanie Griffin specifically asked for custody of the dogs she and her former husband Antonio Banderas shared. Today, that request doesn't seem that far-fetched. In a typical household, the family dog, cat or exotic animal is just as much a part of the family as the mom, dad and kids. Often, both divorcing spouses share a deep emotional bond with the pet.

In the past, animal and livestock were considered to be objects or things and were distributed during property division. But as more couples remain childless and as people become more and more attached to their animals, the courts are seeing a rise in custody requests that specifically deal with a couple's animals. These days, it's not uncommon for a owner to set up a trust fund for a beloved pet, and many people choose to leave their estates to their animals when the owners pass away.

The courts are working to find the most equitable way to award custody when spouses disagree over where the animal should go. Many will use determining factors similar to child custody, noting which spouse gave more financial support to the care, support and feeding of an animal. In more acrimonious cases, the family pet will be used as a bargaining chip as spouses almost compete to see who "wins" the animal. Individuals who are going through divorce may wish to work with a family law attorney who could determine the best course of action in regards to gaining custody of the family pet.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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