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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Happens to Lassie After the Divorce? Pets and Custody Agreements

Today more than ever Americans are making sure that they make arrangements for their pets during a divorce. In fact, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports they have experienced a 23% increase in the amount of “pet custody” cases. So what happens when both you and your partner want to keep the family dog after the split?

I've handled matrimonial cases my entire career, and I've personally dealt with clients who have disagreed over who will keep the family pet. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you or a family member is going through this difficult situation:

1. Pets are considered property in the eyes of law. This means that, unlike children, the court will not consider the “best interests of the dog” during the divorce. Instead, the court will be aiming to provide an equitable distribution of the belongings accumulated during marriage, including the dog. Therefore, arguments about the how fit or unfit you or your partner are to care for the dog generally will not be a factor in the court’s decision.

2. Your best bet for keeping your pet is if you bought him/her before the marriage. If you bought your pet before marriage, or even if your significant other bought the pet as a gift, you can make a fairly strong case for keeping your pet.

3. Try to come to a compromise. I have handled multiple cases where, after some back and forth by the attorneys, the two clients were able to come to an agreement. Remember, as long as you and your significant other can agree on the matter before court, you two have full control of what happens to your pet and can come to any sort of compromise you desire. A common suggestion is that one partner will have custody while the other has visitation rights at specific times and dates.

4. Make sure your attorney includes your agreement in your divorce decree. While it is not 100% certain that an agreement about your pet(s) will be upheld by the court, having it written out and signed on an official document makes it much more likely that it will be taken seriously. Make sure your attorney understands that your pet’s custody schedule is important to you and that he or she thoroughly crafts this part of the agreement.

Whether it’s a dog, cat, fish or bird, pets can be a very important part of our lives. If you need an experienced attorney to handle your situation with care and compassion so that you can be assured that your pet is taken care of, call the offices of Kevin McKernan today. I can be reached at 718-317-5007.

You can also read more about the divorce process here or learn about what happens to the engagement ring in a breakup here.

- Kevin McKernan

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