It could be Spike the dog, Garfield the cat or Polly the parrot; but no matter which animal you consider part of the family, attorneys are finding that custody of pets is an increasingly common factor in divorce cases.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers surveyed their members in 2006, asking about pet custody in divorce. About 25% of respondents believed the issue of pet custody had increased in the past decade, and that judges tended to give pet custody to the parent with child custody as well. The president of AAML also believes pet custody cases have seen an upward trend since the study was done.

With some couples, though, their pet is a family member and is considered on the same level as a child.

The issue is not as straightforward as you might think. Every state in the U.S. considers a pet to be property, and as such, divorce settlements or rulings by a judge would just hand a pet over to one party without much consideration for the emotional toll it takes on the splitting couple.

However, this is no longer the norm. Divorcing couples are reaching pet agreements that are comparable to a parenting plan for children. These agreements can set custody schedules or visitation periods for the pet, and even set guidelines for splitting the expenses associated with raising and maintaining a pet.

Some attorneys speculate that in the near future, legal statutes will be established regarding pets. This would better outline how a pet is handled in divorce cases, but in the meantime if you are going through a divorce and want to defend your right to have custody over a pet, consult a legal representative.

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