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Custody issues may arise for pet owners in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts and across the United States, pets seem to be taking on more and more of a family role than they have had historically. With many couples treating their dogs and cats like children, custody issues can arise during a divorce. This can be further complicated as pets are still largely treated as personal property by the courts, rather than the family members than couples view them to be.

Typically, personal property is not co-owned by a couple following their divorce. This means that a pet normally ends up being awarded to only one individual and not the other. Despite this, since many people do view their pet as a child, it is possible to work out custody or visitation with the pet between the two parties.

Both parties can agree to co-own the pet, which means both a physical and financial commitment. A custody schedule benefiting both parties and the pet would have to be determined, along with determining who pays for expenses such as vet bills or food. Although it is entirely possible to work out a mutual custody agreement, there is also the possibility that one spouse will fight the other for sole ownership of the pet.

In particular, whether the pet was considered marital or nonmarital property can be important. As personal property is typically not divided, the party who wishes to remain the sole owner of a pet may attempt to argue that the animal was originally owned by that individual. Although issues of pet ownership and custody issues may be agreed upon between the two parties, if the two are unable to reach an agreement, pursuing the issue of ownership through divorce litigation is also an option. As pets are legally considered property, this decision should be carefully considered before moving forward, as a Massachusetts judge will ultimately have the final say over who will own the pet.

Source: philly.com, "In a divorce, who gets the pets?", Michele C. Hollow, Aug. 18, 2014

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