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Pets are becoming major issue in divorce cases

Property division, financial support and child custody are all common issues that arise during Massachusetts divorce proceedings. However, pet custody and visitation is quickly becoming a frequent issue as well. According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 179 million dogs and cats living in American homes as pets. Many pet owners have formed strong bonds with these pets and view them as another member of the family. That can cause intense disputes during divorce.

Traditionally, courts have viewed pets just like other pieces of property. The spouse who could claim ownership of the pet was likely to get custody. However, this may be changing. A divorce court in New York took a different view in 2013 when it held a one-day hearing to see which spouse would provide the best situation for all parties concerned, including the dog. During the hearing, each spouse got to answer questions about the dog's care and well-being.

Many divorce experts recommend that couples address pet custody issues in a prenuptial agreement. The agreement could spell out which spouse gets custody of which pet in a subsequent divorce. If each spouse has a bond with the pet, they may want to establish a visitation agreement so that the animal gets to spend time with both individuals. Financial support may also be necessary to help the custodial owner provide care for the pet.

While it may seem strange to include pets in a prenuptial agreement, doing so can help a couple avoid a costly and time-consuming legal proceeding later. Should a divorce be necessary, pet custody would be one item that wouldn't have to be disputed in court if it is included in the prenuptial agreement.

Source: USA Today, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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