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McCurrie McCurrie
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Pet custody cases on the rise across the country

An interesting development in divorce is shining light on the way that pets are perceived when a marriage turns sour. According to several family law experts in New Jersey and across the nation, pets are more often considered as parts of the family rather than as possessions. This is causing some serious issues to arise during the divorce process, some comparing the fight over a pet to that over a child.

According to a 2006 study that surveyed the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, approximately 25 percent of lawyers had seen a noticeable increase in pet custody cases since 2001. The AAML membership is 1,600 strong and has members throughout the nation.

Though the survey is about six years old now, the president of the AAML says that there is no doubt that numbers have increased since then. One attorney said that the number of pet custody cases he has heard has increased by 15 percent over the past five years. Interestingly, he and his former partner share custody of an 8-year-old dachshund named Dudley.

According to some lawyers, most judges send the pet with the child to whichever spouse the custody determination deems to be the better fit parent. But many relationships nowadays are ending without a child and the determination is much harder for the courts to make.

State legislation throughout the nation forces courts to consider pets as property. While this may be the legal case, it seems that divorce proceedings are changing towards a more personal route for animals.

No law currently recognizes visitation with an animal, according to one person that is sharing custody of several pets -- a parrot, two cats and three dogs -- with a former partner. That means that former partners need to work out their own agreement to ensure that the shared pet continues to be just that, shared.

Source: Washington Post, "Child may have an edge when custody of dog is at stake, but who gets dog when it is the child?," Feb. 28, 2012

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