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Pets may be community property in court but not in owners' hearts

The ease with which marital assets are divided during divorce proceedings can vary wildly from one couple to another. While assets can be divided in a fair manner, pets, which in legal terms are considered property, are generally not treated so dispassionately. The community property laws in California can be used to decide the fate of the family dog, but it is more likely that a couple will negotiate a pet's future in a fashion more closely related to negotiations over child visitation and custody.

As with children, pets may end up being used as pawns by a bitter spouse. If this is the case, then it does not bode well for a future in which the pet could continue to be shared between the two parties. In general, dogs will find a joint custody arrangement easier to handle than cats or other animals. Couples will usually have a fair understanding of the relationship between each spouse and the pet in question, which may form the initial foundation of custody arrangements.

As with children, terms may be incorporated into court orders that could include sharing financial responsibility for a pet's current and future health care needs. If sharing pet custody, training or exercise rosters may also be included. In addition, the amount of time each spouse is able to devote to the pet's care and well-being may be taken into account when determining both custody and a visitation schedule.

As with all aspects of divorce, reaching a mutual agreement is preferable for both the couple and the pet, but, in cases in which this is not possible, entering into mediation can help. A neutral third party can facilitate discussion between California spouses, assisting them in recognizing what will be in a pet's best interest, while allowing each party to fully acknowledge his or her own commitment and attachment to the pet. This may allow each party to move forward, while continuing to nurture a bond with this often overlooked member of the family who need not be seen as simply another piece of community property.

Source: inforum.com, "What happens to pets in a divorce?", Tracy Frank, March 15, 2015

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