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Pet custody in divorce cases

Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas recently announced plans to divorce. However, the difficulties they face in deciding who gets custody of their dogs highlights an emerging issue in divorce cases in Connecticut and around the country. Due to their daughter's age, Banderas and Griffith don't need to worry too much about child custody issues. However, determining who gets custody of their pets is another matter. According to sources, Griffith hopes to retain custody of the couple's three dogs.

Working out issues regarding custody often poses one of the greatest challenges for a couple going through a divorce. While many people treat their dogs and cats like members of the family, courts in most states view pets as personal property. For this reason, resolving pet custody issues can vary greatly, depending on the judge involved in the case. Many judges expect parties to negotiate and compromise on this matter.

Although some courts have begun to award visitation in cases where a couple had no prior agreement about their pets, the results are far from certain. Last year marked the first time a court in the state of New York planned to allow a couple to argue their pet custody case in court. The laws regarding pet custody continue to evolve, but some couples may prefer to prepare a custody agreement at the time they get a pet, or before getting married, to avoid a potential dispute in the event they later decide to divorce.

A written plan can eliminate the challenges of negotiating issues at a time when emotions may be running high, which sometimes happens during a divorce. Planning who will get to keep the pets can also eliminate having to rely on a judge to make the decision.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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