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Divorce consideration: when the family pet is center stage

Negotiations during a divorce can sometimes bog down over matters relating to child custody and visitation, support issues or asset valuation and division.

Oh, yes, and the dog.

Although disagreement over pet custody or other animal-related matters is not something that frequently brings divorce settlement discussions to a grinding halt, issues relating to a loved family pet do surface with some regularity at such a time. There is no question that pets are deeply loved in millions of American households, and feelings of angst, fear, guilt, separation anxiety and other emotions sometimes rise to the surface during a time that can already be unduly sensitive and emotional.

One certified mediator with a special focus on helping to forge agreements concerning pets says that she once received a call from an attorney who had carefully worked out a high-asset divorce settlement only to see it threatened at virtually the last minute. The reason: the husband's stress caused by anxiety that he would lose contact with the animal.

Most judges will not entertain motions concerning family pets or get involved with the details of who gets to be with the dog, cat, horse or other animal and when. There is literally centuries of common law precedent that firmly regards animals as property.

More judges are stepping in with opinions and orders, though, and an experienced family law attorney with tact and a depth of divorce-related knowledge can often help resolve animal-related issues that feature in a divorce.

And a mediator, of course, can be found to facilitate a compromise when there is a conflict involving a pet. Some mediators say that a couple simply having a rational discussion, with each hearing the other out, can often bring about a sensible solution regarding a pet.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "A dog's bark is better than litigation's bite," Veronica Dagher, April 30, 2012

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