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Joint custody in divorce … for your pet?

Is your beloved dog – or cat, or horse or, as cited in a recent media piece, boa constrictor – akin in your mind to the living-room sofa? That is, would you ever equate your animal companion to some piece of personal property you bought at the store?

We didn’t think so. Historically, judges have done so, though.

To be blunt, courts over the years have indeed considered animals as nothing more than property items. The above article discusses the laws of one state that might be deemed as typical when it comes to the judicial perception of pets. It notes that they are lumped together with “a couch, silverware or a painting” and dealt with in a divorce pursuant to rules governing equitable asset division.

Massachusetts divorce law is similar to that state’s edict providing for the fair division of personal property between separating spouses. And animals – even cherished creatures slathered with love and attention – are legally deemed as personal property. Thus, the lumping together with the silverware is not an inapt analogy.

But it just seems wrong, right? America’s love affair with pets is overwhelmingly obvious, and it is hardly surprising that their fate can become a center-stage concern in divorce. The aforementioned media spotlight on pet-linked considerations in the divorce process duly points out that who gets a beloved pet “has sparked some ferocious custody disputes” across the country.

Although pets aren’t kids, obviously, there is some notable movement in American courts underscored by an increased judicial willingness to take a bit of time and effort to consider their best interests and well-being. A particular fact pattern and established history can reasonably suggest why one outcome is better than another. Children might be involved. One parent might obviously care for a pet more than the other one does.

It can be a good idea for a divorcing party with pet-centric concerns to discuss that matter with an experienced family law attorney. Families do work out best-case solutions concerning their pets. A proven divorce lawyer can help guide them as they seek to do so.

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