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Custody of pets is a property division issue

Many Colorado dog owners view their pets as part of the family. But in the event of a divorce, those owners might be surprised to learn that most courts don't see things that way. In most cases, a family court judge will view the family pet as personal property, its fate to be decided along with the family car, the house and the furniture.

This may be changing. An association of family lawyers reported the results of a survey that showed an increase in the number of pet custody cases in recent years. Around the country, some judges will consider options like shared custody, support and visitation rights with respect to pets.

But the law still views pets as property, and property considerations are likely to be the prevailing analytical framework in most cases. In Colorado, if one spouse brought the pet to the marriage, the pet will be considered separate property and will go with that spouse after divorce. But if the pet was acquired by the couple after they were married, it will be considered marital property. Generally, property obtained during the marriage is considered marital property in Colorado, and is subject to equitable division between the parties. This means the family dog or cat will likely be put on the list of assets to be divvied up between the two spouses in a fair and just manner.

Those who feel strongly about the custody of a pet would be well advised to reach a voluntary agreement with the other spouse, rather than expecting the court to fashion a solution. If both spouses want the pet, a shared custody agreement, with the pet spending some time at the homes of both ex-spouses, is probably the best arrangement.

Source: Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?" Nancy Kay, Nov. 10, 2013

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