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In a divorce, who gets custody of the family pet?

In most cases, a divorcing Massachusetts couple has a number of decisions to make before the split is finalized. Some people may be surprised to learn that for many couples, the divorce process includes a discussion around living arrangements for family pets. As seven out of 10 U.S. households own a pet, more and more divorcing people are faced with this sometimes complicated situation. Pet owners should become familiar with the basics of pet custody law, although like child custody, individual circumstances dictate treatment and outcome of each case.

Unlike child custody, the courts consider pets to be personal property, meaning barring exceptions such as an abuse situation, they are essentially treated the same as any other item the pet parents may own. Many divorcing couples are able to negotiate pet visitation agreements between themselves, but in cases of conflict, the courts may help a couple find an arrangement agreeable to both parties. For example, the couple may agree to a visitation schedule where pet ownership is shared, or they may decide one person will have full custody and the other will contribute financially for the pet’s care.

In cases where pet custody requires legal intervention, the court will consider several factors. In some cases, a pet owner with more of a financial investment in the pet will be granted custody. For example, perhaps one partner owned the pet prior to the marriage. As well, courts will consider the amount of pet care each partner contributed.

A beloved family pet can present one more difficult decision to make among many for some divorcing couples. However, most pet parents will agree on the importance of making the best arrangement for all involved family members, including pets. A Massachusetts family law attorney can provide knowledgeable guidance with pet custody decisions, as well as all other necessary decisions during the divorce process.


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