Who gets the pet?In this day and age when pets are often filling in as surrogate children, when pet care costs have topped more than 40 billion a year, it really doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when couples split, custody of the pet can be a major issue.

The past couple of years have shown ‘pet law’ on the rise in law schools and more and more judges are actually presiding over custody cases.

Joint custody, sole custody with visitation, no ongoing relationship at all or splitting the pets between partners are all up for consideration, as are who pays expenses for the animal (no matter who has custody) and what happens if the custodial caregiver becomes incapacitated or links up with someone who hates dogs.

“There has definitely been an increase in pets as part of the settlement,” says attorney Donald Frank, partner in Blank Rome’s Manhattan office. In a 2006 survey of lawyers by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 25% reported an increase in pet custody, about 90% of the cases involving dogs.

And it’s sometimes a “very hotly contested issue,” Frank says.

Most times, divorcing couples decide about pets (regarded as property) fairly early in the settlement process, “often in a series of phone calls between lawyers,” Frank says. But sometimes, he says, the matter must be resolved by a judge.

Divorces aren’t the only breakups with implications for pets: Live-in relationships that fall apart often prompt animal-care negotiations. (USA Today)

Then too on top of the breakup and custody issue, you have the issue of the impact of the situation on the pet. They can be affected by the stress and anxiety, may feel abandoned and uprooted and this can lead to behavioral or physical problems.  This is especially true when pets are true parts of the family, pampered, spoiled and cosseted.

The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, because this is something I have faced, is you have to put your own emotions aside including anger and spite and think what is best for your pet.  They are living, breathing, loving creatures.  They thrive on routine and attention.  Who and what is best for them?

Yes, they are considered by law as property, but anyone who would mistake them as having the same value as a chair or sofa shouldn’t have a pet anyway.  Love them enough to do what is best for them!

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