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Pets have uncertain place in divorce

Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas' divorce highlights a problem with asset division that Arizona couples with pets might encounter. Reports suggest a custody battle might ensue over the famous pair's three dogs. Griffith wants the dogs, but this may be a complicated matter because courts treat pets more like personal property than children.

While judges consider who handles more parenting responsibilities and who spends the most time with children when ruling in child custody cases, pets are often treated like furniture and included when dividing items between two parties. Some judges may have one spouse pay another to get a pet, so whoever is willing to pay the most wins the pet. Some attorneys believe this might be a way for one party to feel like the victor in a divorce, which could have negative emotional consequences for people and pets.

Some judges are beginning to see pets as something in between property and children and might hear arguments about who deserves the pets or award visitation hours to the person who does not have ownership. What happens with a pet might depend on the judge, so couples who love their pets might be better off working out an agreement outside of court. Attorneys suggest including pets in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.

Arizona is a community property state, so courts making a property division determination by equally dividing the marital property. Pets acquired during a marriage would be considered community property even if only one person takes care of or spends time with a pet. In order to avoid what could be a contentious battle, it is advisable for the couple to at least attempt to come to an agreement on this issue in advance.

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

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