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Pets and property division

In a Massachusetts divorce proceeding, property is divided equitably, based on each partner’s income and other factors. One piece of property is often overlooked, though: your pets. Of course, thinking of your pets as property may feel as terrible as putting your children in the same category. They are part of the family, after all. The courts understand this, and have created a sort of mixture of property division and custody when it comes to your dog, cat or other animal.

If one partner does not want to give up the pet, it is possible to create a sort of co-ownership, including visitation rights and other aspects. But, just like in a co-parenting scenario, a co-ownership means both parties are equally responsible for buying food, providing healthcare and the like for your pet. But if one partner wants total ownership, things can get a bit tricky.

It often comes down to separate versus communal / marital property. If the couple bought the animal together, this is often grounds enough for co-ownership. However, if one spouse brought the pet into the marriage, or received it as a gift, it could be argued that it is separate property and therefore not subject to shared rights. The “gift” aspect is often the most complicated, as it could be implied that one spouse bought it for the other with the notion that it would become marital property.

Like any other kind of property division dispute, pet ownership can be complex. As such, it can be beneficial to consult with a divorce law attorney about the matter.  

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