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Divorce settlements: What about the dog?

Ken Altshuler, the president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), confidently makes one prediction about the future: Someday judges in all states, including Georgia, will have recourse to written statutory guidelines to help them decide pet custody issues in divorces.

That might sound a bit far-fetched to some people, but nowhere near as outlandish as it would have seemed a generation and more ago. Pets have never been judicially considered in any jurisdiction as anything more than property, but that is changing, with dogs, cats and other animals increasingly figuring into divorce proceedings and outcomes.

'There is a shifting consciousness," says one legal practitioner who estimates his cases involving pet custody have grown by about 15 percent in recent years.

"Judges are viewing them more akin to children than dining room sets," adds Altshuler. "They are recognizing that people have an emotional attachment to their animals."

In an AAML survey a few years back, a full quarter of respondents stated that they had seen pet custody cases increase measurably over time.

Still, divorcing couples have to work things out for themselves, and some do so to a truly impressive degree, with details finely spelled out concerning custody arrangements, visitation, holiday and vacation schedules, vet care and various expenses. The latter element can include breakdowns for day care, food, treats, grooming and even end-of-life decisions.

Altshuler says the trend toward animals being explicitly acknowledged and provided for in divorce settlements is firmly established and will only pick up steam, given Americans' attachment to their pets.

Source: ABC News, "Divorce lawyers: Pet custody cases increasing," Sue Manning, Feb. 28, 2012

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