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Dealing with pet custody

As a couple prepares to divorce in Indianapolis, both sides no doubt are prepared to go to battle over certain issues. Were most to guess what these issues are, custody of the family pet would likely not be among them. Yet information compiled by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers shows that as of 2017, family law attorneys saw a 30 percent increase in the amount of pet custody disputes observed. One the one hand, some might wonder why a couple would allow an argument over who gets the family pet to hold up their divorce. On the other, many recognize that pets often become part of the family, so debating over who keeps them in a divorce is understandable. 

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, pets are considered by the law to be personal property. Thus, they are not subject to custodial agreements or mandatory financial support to cover expenses such as boarding or vaccinations. If a pet belonged to one party before a couple was married, the same pet would be among their separate property in a divorce (in other words, the other spouse would have no claim of ownership). 

Yet what about cases where a pet is marital property. Oftentimes, the court will leave it to a couple to determine how to deal with pet ownership. One side may agree to relinquish their claim of ownership in exchange for another asset. A couple may also choose to accept joint ownership and split the pet's residence between both of their homes. While some may think this amounts to a custody agreement, it does not offer the same legal protections. For example, one in such an agreement cannot cite the pet's best interests if they no longer wish to share custody of the animal. 

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Robert Schembs
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