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Pet custody battles: What you need to know

It's very common for couples to adopt an animal — or two or three — as part of their family. However, if the relationship ends and you decide to divorce, you may wonder who is entitled to keep the pets. This is an increasingly popular question, but it's not one with an easy answer.

The main issue at hand when it comes to pet custody cases is that pets are considered property under the law. This means that they are subject to the same property division guidelines as the rest of your nonliving assets, such as your house, furniture and money. However, a dog can obviously not be split 50/50, and therein lies the problem.

If one of you paid for or adopted the pet, you may be able to present your case for ownership to the courts. If the courts agree that you are to retain the pet as part of the property division settlement, keep in mind that you may have to pay your ex his share of the value of the pet as determined by the courts.

There may be a better alternative to taking the issue to trial, however. Because both parties are likely to have an attachment to the pet and be trying to make decisions in the pet's best interests, it may be worth attempting mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method. With this approach, you and your ex can come to an agreement on what will be done with the pet, and you may even be able to have some stipulations for the other party to access the pet in a similar manner as visitation in custody cases.

Source: Animal Legal Defense Fund, "What to do if you are involved in a custody battle over your companion animal," accessed June 07, 2016

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