Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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A pet custody dispute can be addressed in divorce mediation

It was reported that one in five divorcing couples has pet-related issues to address. Many people love their pets and would prefer to handle pet custody in a similar way as child custody while the courts still regard pets as property. It is, for this reason, customary for a judge to order a divorcing couple to resolve a pet custody dispute themselves.

Some judges in Massachusetts and other states have reportedly become more understanding of people's love for their pets. When a judge has to make such a ruling, there are some presiding factors that will be examined. These may include the emotional bond that exists between the pet and each spouse, or even the children. It may be traumatic for children to have a beloved pet removed during the divorce process. Any history of abuse or physical harm to the pet by any one of the parties involved will also be considered.

Couples that utilize the services of a mediator may want to address pet issues during these negotiations. Matters they will want to consider may include the person who initially paid for the pet, and the person who was responsible for expenses such as food and veterinary care, as this person will likely have a valid claim to the pet. Similarly, the person who spent time training and walking the pet may be favored as the one with whom the pet will find a healthy and happy home.

The spouse with whom the pet stays during divorce proceedings may be regarded as the primary caregiver. However, couples that would prefer not to leave the fate of their pets up to a judge's decision may include it in a negotiated "parenting plan" as they would with child custody matters. Many couples decide to share custody of their pets and regard their responsibilities similar to those of a co-parent of human children. A consultation with an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney may help a couple to make informed decisions related to a custody dispute that involves the welfare of a beloved pet.

Source: care2.com, "Divorcing With Pets: Who Gets to Keep the Dog?", Lisa Spector, Jan. 21, 2015

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