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Who gets custody of the family dog?

People in Louisiana ending their marriage have a lot of issues to contend with. There often is the family home, there may be a business, there usually are one or more cars, there are the kids, and there may be club memberships or season sports tickets. You have to figure out how to divide it all up, including the crystal punch bowl that was a wedding gift from Aunt Myrtle, long since passed on to her presumed eternal reward. But in an increasing number of dissolution of marriage cases, there is now the issue of custody of the family dog. In some families, there are also family cats, parrots, hamsters, or rabbits.

The law typically has regarded animals as merely another item of property, a viewpoint that may have some merit when you are talking about livestock. But for many, when it comes to family pets, they are truly a part of the family and many get very emotional about them. As a result, courtroom proceedings around pet custody are increasingly common, as well as mediation and other methods of addressing the question.

Pet ownership is also increasingly ubiquitous, with 68 percent of all households containing a pet, an increase from the 56 percent that did in 1988. By some estimates, over $53 billion a year is spent on the needs of family pets in the U.S. About 25 percent of all divorce attorneys responding to a survey indicated that pet custody battles were now on the increase.

In more rural areas, there often are also heated controversy about who gets to keep the horse. Sometimes, more exotic animals such as llamas are involved. So far, however, the animals themselves have not gotten involved. None have been known to have hired or been appointed an attorney to help them plead their case as to which humans they should be granted custody of.

Source: Newsweek, "Divorce, Doggy Style" Katya Cengei, Nov. 23, 2013

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