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Divorce battles more frequently include pets

Georgia families may recognize that custody can be a serious issue during a divorce, and pet custody is becoming a common issue for those facing divorce across the country. As battles reach the court room, many are recognizing that a pet is an important part of a family, in some cases filling a gap for a couple without children. This makes the handling of a pet somewhat different than deciding who will receive furnishings and other marital assets.

Statistics indicate that pet ownership has increased dramatically in recent years with nearly 180 million dogs and cats owned by U.S. citizens. Conflict over pets during the division of assets is significant for some because of the relationship and routine established as a pet is involved in family life. A 2013 New York case involving a major battle over custody of a couple's pet led to an approach based on the best interests for all concerned. The judge in the case appointed a single day in court for a hearing on the matter, at which issues such as custody, visitation and care were decided.

Experts indicate that pet owners going through divorce are increasingly addressing pet-related concerns through the establishment of visitation provisions and by defining responsibilities such as vet care. Some couples are even considering the possibilities before they wed, including their pets in their prenuptial agreements. This defensive approach may limit the potential for an adverse outcome in the event of a divorce.

A couple dealing with divorce could clarify custody and visitation issues and priorities for a pet during mediation. In dealing with the issue during litigation, facts such as who brought the pet into the marriage and who provides the majority of care could play an important part in supporting an argument for custody.

Source: USA Today, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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