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What happens to the family pet?

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Maryland residents who are lucky enough to have their divorces proceed amicably usually count themselves as lucky. After all, most people think of divorce as a highly contentious process, full of courtroom battles over issues like child custody and alimony. While professionals who are involved in all stages of divorce have made huge gains in recent years in efforts to move more divorce cases toward respectful mediation and away from courtroom litigation, the fact remains that many cases can only be resolved in front of a family law judge.

Of all the issues that need to be decided in a divorce, one is catching a bit more attention these days: pet custody. Our readers may not know it, but, as a recent article pointed out, pets of all kinds, whether they are dogs, cats or lizards, will need to be addressed in a divorce. Why? Because pets are typically considered to be property, and therefore they will be part of the asset division process.

But, unlike financial assets, like bank accounts, pets obviously cannot simply be split right down the middle. So, what can pet owners expect during their divorce? As always when it comes to legal issues, the answer is "it depends."

If the pet was owned by one spouse before the marriage, courts will often defer to that spouse continuing ownership, or "custody," of the pet after the split. But, if the pet was acquired after the marriage, another arrangement will need to be made. That could be something similar to a child custody arrangement, in which the ex-spouses each share time looking after the pet, or, if the court deems it best, the pet could be awarded solely to one spouse over the other. As with other items of "property" with sentimental value, this could make the divorce process even harder for some people. That is why it is almost always a good move to try to come to an out-of-court agreement on these types of issues, in which both parties agree to an arrangement that both can live with.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?," Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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