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Handling family pets in divorce

While many Texas families believe that a pet that has lived with them for many years is a member of the family, courts do not often follow this thinking. Instead, divorce courts treat pets like they are pieces of property, like a couch or car.

Since courts treat animals like property that is subject to distribution between the couple, one spouse may use pets as leverage. For example, one spouse may know that the other has a strong emotional connection to the animal, so he or she may attempt to agree to give the pet to the other spouse in order to keep an asset worth as much value as the pet.

However, a spouse may be able to assert a well-reasoned argument as to why he or she should be able to keep the pet without having to resort to exchanging assets of significant value. For example, the spouse who wants to keep the family pet may argue that he or she took care of the pet by feeding it, bathing it, taking it to the veterinarian and spending more time with it. He or she may also argue that the dog should stay with the children in order to maintain a family unit. Another argument is that his or her work schedule is more conducive to maintaining a safe and stable home for the pet.

Individuals who anticipate that ownership of a family pet may be in dispute may choose to consult with a family law attorney. A lawyer may be able to suggest evidence that a pet owner should gather in order to support his or her argument about why he or she is the better party to keep the pet.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?", Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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