Increasingly, Americans view their pets as family members. We only need to look at the pet industry to see how manufacturers reinforce this feeling by marketing clothing, specialized kibble and treats, shampoos, conditioners, collars and leashes to keep Spot, Fluffy or Fido fashionable, hip and healthy.
So what happens when couples divorce?
Under the law, pets are personal property. As such, the courts will look to establish who owns the animal in the same manner they would decide on how to divide a patio set or the bedroom furniture.
However, in today's world where pets have become a more integral part of families, courts are beginning to broaden their views, especially when the custody issue affects dogs.
In some cases, the courts will go so far as to consider the issue as they would a child custody case and consider shared custody and visitation arrangements as well as alimony payments to the individual awarded with physical custody.
What if you didn't originally adopt or purchase your dog? There are other ways to substantiate that you should be the primary owner or caregiver of the animal. For example, if you've been paying for the animal's veterinarian and grooming expenses, purchasing its food, hiring trainers, and walking it everyday, you could make the case that you've been the primary caregiver.
You could even have neighbors testify on your behalf as proof that they've seen you walk your dog in the early morning or after work, or seen you with your dog at a nearby dog park.
Pet custody battles are increasingly common, but there's no guarantee that a judge in your jurisdiction will treat your beloved ferret as though it were child.