Many Utah married couples may be living what they believe to be the perfect life. They have the perfect job, spouse, great children and loyal pets. Sometimes, though, the dream fades and each starts to talk about divorce. Arguments may start about who will keep the house, who will get custody of the kids and how much child support or alimony will be required. The process of dividing marital assets begins.

It is generally thought that nearly half of all American marriages end in divorce. Reportedly, almost 62 percent of them have at least one pet in the household. With that many pet owners divorcing, the topic of “custody” of the family pet has become more than just a passing conversation. Dogs seem to be fought over the most.

However, divorce courts look at pets as another marital asset — technically designated as property and subject to division as such. If there are minor children involved, courts typically rule that the family pet remain with the custodial parent. If one party owned the pet prior to the marriage, that fact may be decisive. Unfortunately, some pet custody discussions get heated and may even be used as a bargaining point for something else.

If a battle for the pet appears to be on the horizon, consider what Utah courts might say about marital assets. Who takes care of it, was it always in the family or was it the property of one party prior to the marriage? If any children are involved, which parent will the kids be with most of the time? Having documentation of who paid the vet bills and purchased the food can sometimes be the deciding factor. In the end, some couples negotiate their own version of joint custody, including agreements concerning visitation responsibility for vet bills.

Source: Forbes, “How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?“, Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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