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Pet custody disputes are a growing family law issue

During divorce, couples with significant assets may encounter disagreements about property division. In other cases, couples with kids may spend a lot of time and resources battling for child custody. But believe it or not, one of the bigger issues many divorcing couples face falls somewhere in between child custody and property division: custody of the family pet(s).

Dogs and cats are often considered part of the family; equally loved by parents and children alike. But because pets often fall within the legal gray area between property and family, It's not always easy to determine who gets to take Rover home after the divorce has been finalized. In certain cases, otherwise-settled divorces have been completely unraveled by arguments over pet custody.

While not a perfect example, a recent case from Michigan shows that pet disputes can quickly find their way into the courtroom. The case involves a man and woman from the Detroit area who were not married but were living together with the woman's 10-year-old daughter and a poodle named "Mystery."

The relationship ended last spring, prompting the woman and her daughter to move out of the man's house. However, the man refused to part with Mystery, as he had apparently grown attached to the dog. With her mother's permission, the 10-year-old girl sued the man for the return of the poodle and won. They were recently reunited.

The lawsuit did also name other allegedly unreturned items, including a toaster and some jewelry. It's unclear if a judge ordered these to be returned as well.

This disagreement over pet custody was resolved relatively quickly and without a lot of hassle. However, some pet disputes have dragged on for months or years with no clear winner. Whenever possible, it's best to negotiate pet custody outside of the courtroom. But if no agreement can be reached, a legal fight is sometimes necessary.

Source: Huffington Post, "10-Year-Old Girl Gets Her Pet Poodle Back After Suing Mom's Ex-Boyfriend," Nov. 24, 2013

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