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When Pets are People Too

Divorces are really hard. That decision is the proverbial stone in a pond: the ripple effects are felt by many others, not just you. Your kids, in-laws, friends, maybe even your co-workers will feel the sting, and it can be a long and emotionally exhausting process. But this isn't an experience reserved for the young. Interestingly, a lot more people are divorcing later in life, as well. They're called "silver splitters". They may not have kids in the home anymore, so issues of child support and visitation aren't a consideration, right?

Not so fast.

Let's talk about pet custody, a growing trend in family law that some are embracing and others are shunning as unnecessary.

Georgia doesn't have specific statutory provisions regarding custody of the pets. That's not really news there: most states don't have any such statute. Pets under the laws of our state are "chattel", or property. This property is, of course, subject to the laws of equitable division in the state's divorce laws, though. If you bought your dog or adopted your cat during the course of the marriage, that pet is subject to equitable division and can be a bone of contention (pun intended) when both parties are seeking primary possession of the pet.

So if there's no law on point, how do we make the argument for who gets Rover or Fluffy? Nationwide, most attorneys are now using the "best interest of the child" standard and framework that governs custody of children to guide judges in deciding which party should keep the pet. This has gone so far as to include "pet support" - an Arkansas court recently upheld one party paying the other party, who received possession of the pet, $150 per month for the maintenance and upkeep of the pet. All over the United States, attorneys are now advocating for the pets in much the same manner as they would the kids - not surprising since for a lot of us, our pets are our children.

So when we're crafting our argument over who is keeping the pet, we must consider factors such as: who is most capable of taking care of the pet ,where has the pet lived up until this point and would custody mean moving the animal, what is the work schedule of the parties like and who could spend the most time with the animal, who is receiving custody of the kids and are the kids so attached to the pet that the pet should go with them, has one party ever neglected or abused the pet, who has the most space and environment conducive to owning the pet.

When you go to speak to an attorney regarding your divorce or other family law issue, make sure to remember the furry members of your family, too, and keep their best interests in mind when thinking about who should get the pet. Talk to your attorney about this and discuss your options, because when it comes to family law, pets are people too.

Megan Santiago

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