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Pets and divorce in Massachussetts

Although many people consider their pets to be a part of their family, courts view pets as personal property, subject to division in a divorce just like any other asset. Pet owners may fiercely litigate regarding who will be awarded their pets, and courts across the country have come up with often conflicting rulings regarding them.

Normally, as personal property, pets will be viewed as belonging to the person who is their legal owner. Some courts, however, do apply a best interests of the animal standard in determining with whom the pet will reside.

In a 2013 New York case, a court set aside an entire day for a hearing to determine what the best interests of everyone concerned were in order to decide which spouse would get their dog. The case involved a lesbian couple, one of whom had given a dachshund to the other as a gift. The one who received the dachshund argued she should get the dog as its first legal owner, while the other one argued that since she had financially supported the pet, she should be awarded custody of it. It was believed by many to be the first New York case in which a court set aside a significant portion of time to decide what the best interests of a pet were.

People who are engaged in a family legal dispute over ownership of a pet may benefit by trying to negotiate an agreement. In the absence of an accord, it is possible that the court will view the pet under a personal property law standard instead of taking its best interests into account. Those who have such a dispute may wish to seek legal counsel for assistance in the negotiation of an agreement regarding pet custody and visitation.

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