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Pet custody disputes increasing in divorce

Texas residents may be interested in how pet ownership is treated during divorce proceedings. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, approximately 27 percent of the attorneys who responded said they have seen an increase over the past five years in divorce disputes involving pets.

Dog custody was disputed in 88 percent of the proceedings. Cats were the second most disputed pet, appearing in five percent of cases. Some of the more unusual pets were iguanas, pythons and African grey parrots. Horses were cited as disputed property by four percent of the surveyed attorneys. Experts say that the issue of horse custody can be complex during a divorce because these animals require costly care and they are often have significant value.

Some of the surveyed attorneys said that pet custody disputes are on the rise because many spouses are starting to use pets as bargaining chips. Very often, one spouse is more attached to the pet than the other spouse and in an ensuing divorce, a spouse could use that attachment as a negotiating tactic. The prospect of losing custody of the pet may cause a spouse to give up fighting over another asset such as antiques or heirlooms.

Divorce experts say that couples should approach pet custody in the same manner in which they would approach child custody. While the dispute can certainly end up being decided during a trial, it is recommended that couples try to resolve the dispute outside the courtroom. By negotiating a mutually satisfactory agreement, a couple can avoid the time and expense of trial. They can also avoid a court-decided outcome that may not satisfy either party.

Source: MainStreet, "Pet Custody Battles on the Rise in Divorce Court", Juliette Fairley , February 21, 2014

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