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Pets gain new rights in California divorce cases

Do you consider your dog to be a member of the family?If so, you definitely aren't alone. Now, thanks to like-minded members of the California legislature, dogs, cats and other family pets will be treated much the same as children when it comes to deciding who gets custody during a divorce.

Prior to the change in the law, judges were generally required to treat pets like nothing more than one more piece of property that had to be divided, making the family dog akin to a couch or a lamp. That sometimes made the family pet an item that one spouse could hold over the other's head as a bargaining chip.

Now, judges are able to take into consideration what's in the best interest of the animal when they decide who gets custody of a family pet. Judges can look at evidence that shows who feeds the animal, walks it, trains it, handles its grooming and takes it to the vet as part of their decision-making process. In addition, judges can also order shared custody or visitation arrangements between divorced couples when it isn't clear who should get to keep the animal.

Not everyone is a fan of the new law. Some experts feel like the time judges may have to take hearing evidence about family pets and making custody decisions on the issue will bog down the overburdened court system even further. Others, however, view this change as a significant step in the right direction, given that pets have an increasingly important place in many modern families.

No matter what issues you're facing in your divorce case, make sure that you fully understand your rights before you proceed.

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