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Pet issues during the divorce process

A beloved pet can bring many years of joy to a Florida household, and months of disputes if the owners divorce. For one well-known Hollywood couple going through a breakup, issues related to their three dogs became more contentious than the division of property or the custody of their daughter. Many attorneys are seeing pet custody as a new wrinkle in the often-messy legal tangles of divorce and marital settlements.

Pets are normally viewed as personal property in divorce proceedings. For many family court judges, pets are simply marital assets, to be divided among the spouses in the same way as household goods, cars and jewelry. Other courts see pets as worthy of a different approach, in which the judge considers a pet's sentimental value and the contribution of each spouse to the pet's care.

Some Florida couples are taking the advice of attorneys and including pets in pre- and post-nuptial agreements. By working out custody of a pet before marital troubles begin, a couple may be able to avoid future litigation. This is also advisable if the pet has value as a show animal or for breeding purposes. A court is likely to honor the language of such an agreement unless a dissenting party can show cause, such as possible harm through negligent care by the prospective owner.

Dogs, cats and other animals that share a home offer love, companionship, fun and security. There have been instances where courts have granted custody of the beloved pet to one party and provided visitation rights to the other, although it is still usually preferable for a divorcing couple to try to work out this issue on their own rather than leave it in the hands of a judge.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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