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Dividing ownership of pets in a divorce

When a married couple divorces, the parties must go through the process of dividing the marital property. With some financial assets, such as bank accounts, the parties can often reach a fair result by simply dividing things in half. Some other types of financial assets, such as ownership stake in a business, can be a lot more difficult to divide. And, of course, division becomes really tough when it comes to unique items or things of sentimental value. Typically, the parties have to negotiate over these pieces of property, and the debate can be emotional. Some of the hardest of these cases involve pets.

Recently, another state waded into these troubled waters when it announced that courts would change the way they determine ownership of pets after divorce. In Alaska, a new law provides that courts will consider the well-being of pets in determining ownership of the animal in a divorce. The law means that courts will now treat division of pet ownership more like a child custody dispute. Alaska courts may even decide to award joint custody of pets.

So far, Alaska is the only state to have such a law. In Missouri, courts treat pets more or less like any other property divided during the divorce. Under Missouri law, most assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property. So, if the couple adopted the pet during the marriage, ownership of the animal becomes part of the greater property division process. For instance, one spouse may claim the dog in exchange for letting the other spouse keep a cherished piece of furniture.

However, reporters have noted that many divorced couples across the country have negotiated something like a joint custody agreement for their pets, without court involvement. This helps illustrate the fact that many things are negotiable in a divorce. Negotiating a settlement out of court gives you greater control over your legal solutions than letting a court decide. With good legal help, you can find creative ways to resolve many issues in divorce.

Source: USA Today, "Alaska will treat pets more like kids in divorce courts," Jonathan Petramala, Jan. 25, 2017

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Alan E. DeWoskin, P.C.
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