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Who gets the pets when Fluffy and Fido's parents divorce?

So you've decided to divorce. You and your spouse have come to an agreement on who will keep the house and how you'll divide your time with the kids. Now what about those sad eyes looking up at you from the dog bed?

Pets are an oft-forgotten detail in the process of property division. Fortunately, there are some ground rules in place.

Pets are considered marital property, to be divided in the same way your furniture is. Courts will typically view the owner as the person who registered the dog with the city or the name that's listed as the owner during the vaccination process. But in some cases, the records may conflict. In those cases, a judge might consider who can provide a better home for the pet, each spouse's financial stability, and whether the "custodial parent" can provide enough time for the pet, especially in the case of dogs.

If one of the spouses came into the marriage with the pet, then in all likelihood that spouse will remain its keeper. But as with any marital property, fights can break out, and the court may then revert to licenses as a means of determining ownership. But pet custody is also decided like child custody. A judge might consider any instances of domestic abuse, drug abuse or extreme financial instability as grounds for awarding custody to the other spouse.

Just as with child custody battles, spouses can get bitter and vindictive when it comes to the family pets. Some might use the pet as a tool to get back at the other, fighting for custody out of spite or even getting rid of it afterwards. It's at this point couples should remember that pets can sense stressful situations and in turn develop their own emotional and behavioral problems. Ever notice your dog cowering in a corner when you and your spouse fight? You wouldn't want your children to suffer from your conflict; pets can be just as vulnerable.

You may decide to "co-parent" your pets, which can keep everyone happy. Try to share the responsibilities that go along with that, including vet appointments and making sure the pet gets exercise, if necessary. Especially with dogs, make sure they're following disciplinary rules at both households, just as children are expected to do.

Pets can provide much-needed companionship at a time you need it most. Just remember to share the love -- if not with your spouse anymore, then with your dog.

Source: Petside.com, "What Happens to Pets After Divorce?" Victoria Schade, Dec. 14, 2011

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