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How is pet custody determined in divorce?

Several years ago in this Cherokee County Divorce Law Blog we discussed the issue of pet custody. Pet custody disputes come up often in divorce and they are perhaps becoming more and more common. Many divorcing couples are still surprised, however, when they find out that there is no legal procedure to determine a pet's custody after divorce. Under Georgia law, pets are considered property and as such most family law judges will give no consideration to a pet custody dispute.

While this is actually the case in every state, a couple of states are now considering having animal advocates represent pets' interests in court. The practice has been designed for cases of animal abuse--such as the 2007 Michael Vick dog fighting case in which a guardian represented the interests of the dogs at trial--but lawmakers in Connecticut have considered involving animal advocates in pet custody disputes, too.

The Connecticut bill has now been revised to allow animal advocates only in abuse cases after many lawmakers opposed their presence in pet custody disputes. Some say, however, that if the bill passes and animal advocates become accepted in abuse cases, the law could eventually be expanded to include pet custody cases.

Under current law here in Georgia and throughout the country, custody proceedings do not apply to animals even though many people consider their pets to be their children. Pets, rather, are grouped in with all of the other property that must be divided in divorce--such as the marital home, furniture, cars and other assets.

Some judges, however, may consider factors such as who owned the pet prior to the marriage, who took care of the pet and who supported the pet financially in order to determine who really owns the pet. In most pet custody disputes, however, pet owners are more likely to benefit from working with their family law attorneys outside of court in order to negotiate a legal agreement dictating the future ownership of the pet.

Source: Associated Press, "Animal rights action in Connecticut gives hope to advocates across USA," April 29, 2013

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