You’ve split up. Now who gets to keep Fido?

We tend to associate divorce with battles over child custody, the house and the bank account. But what about the dog?

Some 63 percent of American households own at least one pet, and spending on pets has tripled since the mid-1990s. Obviously, cats, dogs, and even hamsters matter greatly to people, so custody of pets after a breakup is going to matter as well.

But while you might think of your pooch as a member of the family, the law doesn’t agree. In almost every case, the law treats an animal as a piece of property. That means that if there’s a fight, a court will award the pet to one spouse or the other, without the opportunity for shared custody or visitation.

If one spouse can show a superior legal right to a pet – for instance, by proving that the pet was purchased before the marriage, or was inherited by that spouse alone or given as a gift to that spouse individually – then typically, that spouse will get to keep the pet.

It’s possible that this will change. Recently, a judge in Maryland decided that a divorcing couple loved their dog equally, and that the animal’s “best interests” were served by having them share custody.  In another case, a Florida judge ordered visitation rights for a divorcing pet owner, although that decision was overturned on appeal.

But these cases are exceptions. If you both truly love your pets, the best solution may be to work out some joint arrangement with your ex for taking care of them, rather than letting a court divvy them up along with the furniture.

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