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Resolving pet custody can be a difficult part of divorce

A divorce initiates the complicated and sometimes extended process of separating into two groups those things that were once held as one. Dividing financial accounts and other liquid assets may seem easy, but there can be disagreements regarding exactly how much Florida law deems is fair to give to one spouse or the other. When it comes to unique items, sentimental objects and illiquid pieces of property, the task of property division can become even more complex.

But what about pets? Unlike a bank account, they cannot be split in two, and owners' emotional attachment to their dog, cat or bird can make the resolution of pet custody disputes particularly challenging. The divergent practices of some judges show that the court system is unsure of how to approach the question in a uniform manner. At one time, judges would settle the matter by asking the spouses to call their dog. Whichever spouse the dog chose would be the party to whom the judge awarded custody.

That practice has fallen out of favor, but has been replaced by a menagerie of custody resolution solutions. With courts' dockets overflowing, some judges decide the issue as quickly as possible, inquiring which spouse bought or first came into possession of the pet. Other judges devote more time to the question, awarding custody to the spouse who is more connected to the pet and who can provide more secure financial accommodations for the pet, echoing some of the considerations in child custody cases.

Parties to a divorce may want to consider settling their case out of court. For couples who are willing to work together, it can save time and money and can give spouses greater control over issues such as which person gets to keep a beloved family pet.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Pet ownership disputes can be as messy as child custody cases," Ashley Powers, Aug. 22, 2012

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