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How pet ownership can complicate a divorce

Texas is a community property state, and assets that are acquired by a couple during marriage must be in most cases equally divided between the two parties in the event that they divorce. If parties cannot agree on which of them will maintain possession of a family home, a judge may order the parties to sell the house and split the profits 50-50. Although most pet owners would disagree, many family law courts will treat animals as items of property that are no different than a home or a piece of furniture.

As more pet custody disputes begin presenting themselves in contested divorces, some judges are beginning to take more time to consider how to best divide the couple's pets. In New York, one judge was prepared to allow the divorcing individuals to present oral arguments in support of why one or the other would be a better choice to keep the pets. The rich and famous are not exempt from pet custody disputes. Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, who were married for 18 years, recently announced that they are filing for divorce, and Griffith has already put forth arguments as to why she should be allowed to keep the couple's three dogs.

When there are more assets on the table, one party may take advantage of another party's attachment to the family pets, since one person may try to bargain for multiple items of property in exchange for relinquishing a claim to the pet. To avoid a bitter divorce dispute, married couples may want to draft a postnuptial agreement stipulating future ownership of newly acquired animals.

A family law attorney may also help single individuals include matters such as pet ownership in a prenuptial agreement. If a divorce is already pending, an attorney may guide negotiations with the other party to try to reach a divorce settlement without having to resort to litigation.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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