John Elledge & Assoc PC
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The Fate of the Family Pet During a Divorce

Your dog is your baby, best friend, and loyal companion, but in the eyes of the law, he's property. That subtle nuance may seem inconsequential to you now - you're going to treat him like your own flesh and blood, anyway -- but in the face of a nasty divorce, that definition becomes way more important.

In the U.S., there is one divorce every 36 seconds. That's 2,400 divorces each day, 16,800 per week, and 876,000 divorces every year. About 62% of all households have at least one pet. So what happens to all those dogs and cats when their households are divided?

Some divorce lawyers will tell you that, believe it or not, the fact that animals are considered property can actually work to your advantage. Just like you and your ex may form an agreement regarding who gets the dining room table or the BMW, you have the power to decide what happens to your beloved pet. Unlike in a child custody battle, it is highly unlikely that a judge will make a ruling on this matter based on your fitness as a pet parent.

On the other hand, because an animal is property, just like your HDTV, a judge will probably not rule that you can share custody. You're not going to send the television back and forth on alternating weekends, are you? That is why divorce lawyers recommend that you agree on an arrangement outside of court if you intend to share your pet. Put your agreement in writing so that it becomes legally enforceable.

In your agreement, make sure you cover all the important details, including a custody schedule, boarding when one is traveling, health care decisions, and expenses.

Attorneys know that if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist. Start negotiations early and keep in mind your own lifestyle and how your life is about to change. Consider your ability to care for your pet. For instance, if you are about to move into a house without a backyard or a small apartment that doesn't allow pets, think about how this will affect them. Always do what's best for your pet. Don't let your emotions - angry, sad, or otherwise - dictate the conversation or your plans for your furry friend.

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