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Custody battles over pets on the rise

Perhaps the most famous example of a divorcing couple fighting over pets involves Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, but theirs is not an isolated case. People going through a divorce in Colorado may be interested to learn that battling over pets is not uncommon. A well-known attorney said that he has seen many couples fight about who gets the pets, though most courts treat a family's animals as personal property subject to division rather than custody.

When Griffith announced that she wanted custody of the three dogs she co-owned with Banderas, she was ridiculed online, but from a legal standpoint pet custody is no longer a joke. The opinions of how to handle pets in divorce varies, with judges having very different ways of approaching pet owners' concerns. Another attorney said that he has known judges who were willing to hear evidence to decide who was the better caretaker for the animal as well as judges who treated pets like household goods and encouraged owners to have a bidding war as if the animal were a piece of furniture.

Another attorney from California said that she has also seen owners fight over pets and advises that people include pets in a prenuptial agreement. This would ensure that the person who was the primary caretaker for the pet would get him or her in the case of divorce. Without such an agreement, a court might award visitation rights.

In the absence of an agreement between the spouses, an argument over who should get custody of a beloved pet can get contentious. A family law attorney can assist a client in negotiating a settlement that would contain appropriate provisions.

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

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