Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Divorce mediation in pet custody battles in Massachusetts

A survey done last year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed that pet custody battles are increasing. Worcester couples who own cats, dogs and other pets could be including such issues in their divorce settlements. Dogs, among the most common pets, show unconditional love to their owners, and their role is important for divorcing couples, who may be feeling vulnerable as their partners leave them.

The couples may be divorcing in the traditional way, in other words, with an attorney and a court appearance, or they may decide to use a divorce mediator. Divorce mediation is an option that divorcing parties can use.

Through mediation, both parties come to an agreement on the pet's custody. The Courts do not treat pets like children in divorce settlements; pets are considered property in the court system. If children are involved, usually the pets are given to the party who will have primary custody of the children.

For divorcing couples who do not have children or who are empty nesters, deciding the custody over pets is more difficult. Issues such as sharing custody and visitation arise, and other issues, such as medication and veterinary bills when the pets get sick, may also come into play. According to a mediation expert, both parties sometimes share medical bills and custody. Through mediation, both parties can arrive at an amicable solution and avoid litigation.

In divorce mediation, a mediator helps to draft agreements involving property division and child custody, so cooperation is a must. A successful mediation can prevent a contentious divorce, and both parties may become effective partners in resolving issues, even in divorce.

Source: Family GOES STRONG, "Pet Custody Agreements: Doggies and Divorce," Jan. 11, 2013

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