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Property division and pet ownership after divorce

California couples who are approaching or beginning the divorce process are usually prepared for a series of negotiations over marital property. Those with children anticipate struggles over child custody and support. However, many spouses are surprised at the emotional response they experience when it comes to deciding who will keep the family pets, making this area of property division a difficult hurdle for many.

Pets become a significant part of a family, especially in cases where the animals stand in for children. When it becomes apparent that a marriage is not going to continue, many spouses make assumptions about where the pets will live. They are often surprised, however, when the other spouse feels differently.

Family court judges will often not weigh in on issues of pet 'custody' but will tell the parties to work the details out between themselves. Even when a judge will make a determination on the issue, he or she will not have sufficient knowledge of the pets or their routines to make a decision that fully serves the interests of the animals. Only the owners can ensure that pets end up with the party who is best equipped to provide for their needs and give them the attention that they deserve.

When dealing with issues concerning pets, as with any other matter of property division, it is imperative to draft a written outline of the agreement so that there can be no confusion as to the details of the arrangements. This is especially true when some form of shared pet 'custody' has been agreed upon. Family court judges in California will sign off on most divorce settlements that a couple can agree upon, and having the care of the family pets written into the settlement is the best way to avoid future conflict over the issue.

Source: DL-Online.com, "After a divorce or break-up, what happens to the pet?" Pamela Knudson, Oct. 23, 2012

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