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What do you do when a pet becomes a bargaining chip in a divorce?

Some people may scoff at the idea of divorcing couples having custody battles over pets. However, many Texans cherish their four-legged family members and can't imagine not having them in their lives. We can fully understand how couples who go their separate ways may find the decision of where their animals will live a wrenching one.

The increasingly important role that animals play in our lives and happiness is borne out by a survey recently conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Over 25 percent of people reported that within the past five years, they had been in a custody dispute over a pet. These aren't just verbal disputes. Nearly a quarter of attorneys polled reported that courts are increasingly willing to hear pet custody cases.

While some of these disputes are no doubt between people who are both devoted to their pet, according to the president of the AAML, often one spouse uses the threat of taking custody of an animal beloved by their partner to gain something else they want instead. She notes that using an animal as a bargaining chip is unwise and, in fact, can backfire. It is usually clear to judges which person truly loves their pet and which one is using them. She says that people who find themselves battling with a soon-to-be-ex who's threatening to take a beloved pet should not panic and not give in, because their "commitment and emotional attachment" to the animal "usually shines through to everyone very clearly."

Dogs seem to be the primary source of dispute among divorcing pet parents, at least according to the survey. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they fought over a canine companion. Only five percent battled over cats. It was not reported what critters were involved in the remainder of the cases.

Our animals are a source of comfort and company. When a person is going through a divorce, their love and companionship can be crucial to both that person's emotional and physical well-being. It is essential that you let your Texas attorney know how important your animal is to your life so that he or she can help you fight to retain custody. This is especially true if you have children. The last thing that kids need at a time when their life has been turned upside down is the threat of losing a beloved pet.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Fighting Over Cats and Dogs During a Divorce" Maria Cognetti, Mar. 24, 2014

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