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Who keeps the pets

As Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith filed for divorce after almost 20 years, animal lovers in Virginia and across the nation watched as their separation became contentious over who would keep the pets. Technically, this is not a custody battle because the courts have historically determined that animals are subject to property division determinations. Even so, the couple's battle over who will keep their three canines seems hostile.

Some family law attorneys report that haggling over who will keep the pets is becoming increasingly common. Families are dishing out more money than ever on their furry friends, and couples are waiting to have children. These changes have increased the importance of animals in the household. Legal decisions are evolving when it comes to how the family pet is handled, although by and large the law still views animals as possessions, subject to the same rules as other assets. In some cases a judge might understand the emotional connection the parties have with their animals. Other judges are more disconnected when it comes to ruling over who keeps the family pet.

One lawyer recommended including stipulations about what happens to a pet in a prenuptial agreement. If one party brings the pet to the union, they would then be able to keep the animal should the relationship dissolve. If they buy the pet together, they could establish rights to the animal in a postnuptial agreement.

Separating from a beloved animal when a marriage ends could be very emotional. Both parties might have strong feelings on who will retain ownership of their pet. A divorce lawyer might develop a compelling argument for a client so they can keep their furry friend.

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

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