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Family pet considered property during divorce proceedings

With so many issues to consider when a couple decides to divorce, one very important and often highly emotional topic may be initially forgotten: the family pet. It might seem like no big deal, but with the U.S. Census reporting that more than 70 percent of households in American include a pet, the issue may affect more couples than New Jersey readers think.

So who gets the pet? It might seem like a custody issue, similar to families with children, but unfortunately, in the eyes of the legal system, it’s not. A pet -- be it a cat, dog or snake -- is considered property. That means it will be distributed much like a person’s couch or television. Judges will figure out the value of the animal and decide who will get custody. 

When making a custody determination a judge will look at when the pet was bought and who bought it to determine if the animal is community property or separate property. If the pet is deemed to be community property, the judge will figure out who the primary caretaker was and who has the most emotional attachment to the pet.

Readers may question why a pet is treated as property, when most Americans view their pet as a family member. Legal professionals say doing so simplifies and expedites the process. Nevertheless, it can be a very heartbreaking experience for all involved.

According to a pet-custody mediator, the goal for couples seeking divorce is to concentrate on the best interests of the pet. In the end, even if you loathe your ex-partner, you have to realize that both individuals love the pet and want what is best for him or her. 

Source: East Bay Express, "How to Navigate Pet Custody Battles," Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013

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