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Increasing importance of pet custody

Celebrity couple Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are in the process of the divorcing. Although the couple has one child together, a daughter, she is not the primary focus of a looming custody battle. It's the estranged pair's three dogs are at the forefront of the dispute.

Griffith, who filed for divorce after almost 20 years of marriage, has formally requested custody of the estranged pair's three dogs. While the legal concept of treating pets as members of the family rather than property is new, it is a growing area of legal validity. Some have connected this with numerous reports and studies that show married couples are choosing to either delay becoming parents or opting out altogether. They theorize that pets could be more important to a couple without children.

The legal conundrum, however, is that pets are legally considered property, and negotiating a loved animal's place in custodial decisions is therefore different than deciding child custody. Essentially, pets often become part of property division as opposed to custody agreements. Whether a judge is more inclined to view pets as property or as family members is likely to affect how the animal is treated during the divorce. While the presiding court official may understand the deep importance of a family pet's value, the law is still the law. Pets are not legally considered children.

However, pet owners are not without reprieve. Although the law may consider pets as part of property division, prenuptial agreements can supersede legal tradition and state which party becomes responsible for a pet. A divorce attorney can help navigate difficult issues that pertain to animal custody, helping to prevent messy decisions as to who would keep the pet after a divorce.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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