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Could you lose your dog in a divorce?

Divorce involves the dividing of shared property when two people no longer wish to be married. Historically, the court has lumped pets into this category of “property”, which means you could risk losing them in a divorce—just like your house or car. For pet owners who view their pets as family, this news can be a hard pill to swallow. However, the tides are starting to turn on this issue, and some state lawmakers are changing the way they view pets.

In a 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, pet-custody cases saw a 27 percent increase in the previous five years. In fact, some states have begun treating dogs as they would children in a divorce, and custody decisions are based on the same criteria.

The country’s first pet-custody legislation—which passed in Alaska earlier this year—takes into consideration the pet’s wellbeing. Much like the factors that determine child custody—where the court seeks to determine what is in the best interest of the child—the court now asks the question: what is in the best interest of the animal? This trend is gaining momentum in other parts of the country, and Rhode Island may be the next state to enact similar legislation.

In North Carolina, pets are still seen as property in the eyes of the law. Nonetheless, some courts have started using other evidence to determine who is fit to care for a pet. Considerations may include:

  • Who feeds the pet, takes it for walks, and does its grooming
  • Which member of the household tends to the pet’s medical care
  • Which party is financially most capable of caring for the pet
  • Which pet owner is able to provide a safe environment that’s conducive to social interaction and training

Want to avoid the heartache of battling over ownership of your pet all together? Consider making plans for your pooch before you tie the knot. The emergence of pets in prenuptial agreements has been a growing trend in recent years. If you’re getting married and you’re planning to draw up a prenup, why not add a stipulation for Fido too?

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