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Pets offer companionship and unconditional love to their human caretakers. Often they are considered to be another member of the family. When couples decide to divorce, the care and custody of pets can be another point of conflict.

The strong bond owners have with their pets is reflected in a report by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). The organization reported an over 20 percent increase in pet custody cases. By far the most common type of dispute, representing 90 percent of the cases, is related to the family dog.

In the law, pets are seen as part of the marital property division, in the same category as cars or furniture. However, as many people express emotional attachment to their feathered and four-legged pets, some courts are beginning to apply additional considerations to settling such disputes. For example, in the Lucky Myers case in Maryland, the interests of the dog and its owners were considered when reaching a shared custody determination.

The issue of pet custody has also caught the attention of many legislatures. In 2007, Wisconsin representative Sheryl Albers introduced an assembly bill, AB 436, to address the placement of pets for couples involved in court proceedings. The same year, Michigan representative Michael Sak attempted to push HB 5598, which required couples seeking a divorce, annulment, or separate maintenance to list their pets in their complaint. Albers’ bill failed to pass the Senate in 2008. Sak’s legislation was submitted but has not advanced beyond Judiciary Committee approval.

Parties can always negotiate to reach an agreement on how to handle their affairs, including arrangements for their family pets. When parties cannot agree, however, a real “dog fight” may ensue. The significant increase in pet custody cases indicates that this is becoming more frequent.

Source: Who Gets the Pet in a Divorce