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Who gets custody of your pets in a MA divorce?

If you and your spouse don't have children, that can make the divorce process less complex and faster for everyone involved. Unfortunately, just because you don't have human children doesn't mean there aren't dependent living beings you are both emotionally attached to.

Whether you've raised your dog together since it was a puppy or adopted a homeless shelter cat years ago, pets are often a point of contention during divorces. Both spouses may want to retain ownership of an animal, leading to fighting and disagreements that can cause a protracted divorce battle.

In some cases, a person could even choose to stay in an unhappy or unhealthy relationship as a means of ensuring that he or she can maintain a relationship with companion animals. You may find yourself wondering if visitation or shared custody of your pet could work out after your divorce.

While it is possible for you and your former spouse to reach a mutual agreement about visitation with an animal you love, the courts will not create or enforce any kind of shared custody arrangement for your pet, no matter what cost or emotional value your animal represents.

Pets are possessions, not people, to the courts

You love your pet and you know he or she has a truly unique personality. From preferred to snacks to the little behavioral ticks that you find adorable, there's no other animal in the world like the companion you've shared with your spouse for years.

Regardless of how you love your pet, however, the courts will view all animals as assets, not as family members. That means that the courts will not consider any kind of shared custody situation. When the divorce decree is issued, any animals from the marriage will get assigned to one owner only.

The courts will look at several factors when determining who keeps any animals. If one person owned the animal before the relationship, that animal is individual property, not marital property, and it remains that person's possession. If the animal joined your home during the marriage, either spouse may have a claim to the pet. If it was given as a gift, the recipient will typically keep the pet.

Otherwise, the courts will determine who has more claim to the animal and who can provide for it. Pets may get treated like precious heirlooms or other items with emotional value. If one spouse has a history of abusing the animal, lacks a stable address or works abroad, that will impact the decision. Although the asset division process is typically final, you may still be able to negotiate with your former spouse for visitation if the court proceedings don't end as you wish.

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