Ask anyone with a pet in Marietta whether Spot, Mittens and Fido are merely physical property or whether they are bona fide members of the family and the response may be nearly universal — family members. More and more people in Georgia and across the country are looking at their pets as family members, making divorce and custody more complicated. Since Georgia still considers pets to be property subject to equitable division, many divorcing couples are turning to their lawyers to craft pet custody agreements.

The number of pet custody cases has increased considerably since 2001, but there are often few rules and regulations on which a family court judge can rely when making his or her pet custody decisions. There has been an increase, however, in shared custody among the divorcing parties. While working out a pet custody agreement may be difficult, it is often easier than bringing it before a judge.

Much like child custody agreements, some ex-spouses will come up with very detailed and extensive agreements. Pet parents will have to decide who will have the dog or cat on what days of the weeks, on vacations or during the holidays. Do the owners want to have separate toys, beds, leashes or food bowls or do they want to trade them off every time they trade of the pets? Will they use the same type of food? Are there rules on how many treats each parent can give? And, what would happen if the pet outlives one of the parents?

While some divorcing couples think they will just be able to deal with pet custody issues on their own, it is often wiser to use a family law attorney to craft a complete custody agreement. Using lawyers may make it easier to ensure that even the most unlikely of situations is covered, preventing future conflict over the pets.

Source: Boston Globe, “Divorce lawyers: Pet custody cases increasing,” Sue Manning, Feb. 28, 2012