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Custody battles involving pets becoming more common

The family pet can be an important member of the family. Many people develop deep-seated emotional attachments to their pets, whether dog, cat, bird or horse, which they do not want to lose in a divorce. This can be all the more so for couples without children.

And during a divorce, which is an emotionally upsetting time on its own, the presence of a beloved dog or cat can help one of the parties get through the emotional trauma that may occur. A dog may provide that unquestioningly loyalty and love that is most needed when other emotional support fails.

While a divorce carries an enormous emotional impact, it is a legal proceeding, governed by the rules set down by the Missouri State Legislature and interpreted by the family courts.

The bad news for pet owners is, unlike children, where the law provides a great deal of guidance for child custody and parenting time determinations, with regard to pets, they are a subject for ordinary property division and if you want the dog, you may have to trade a table and four chairs.

This creates some degree of dissonance for a spouse who is very invested with the pet, is their primary caregiver and loves them deeply. The court may come across as cold and unfeeling, when it is really that courts are not equipped to deal with pets at that level.

One legal instrument that may help is a postnuptial agreement. You and your spouse can agree by contract after you are married that if you should ever divorce, which pet or pets go with which spouse.

While this may seem a bit much, there are reports of couples who have spent thousands of dollars litigating these issues. An ounce of prevention, as they say.

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

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