USAToday.com - In a 2006 survey by the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), a quarter of respondents said pet custody cases had increased noticeably since 2001.
While the academy is due for another survey, there is no doubt such cases have grown steadily since then, said Ken Altshuler, a divorce attorney and AAML president.
If there is a child involved in a divorce, many judges will keep the pet with the child. "But what do you do when the pet is the child?" Altshuler asked.
Breakups in same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships are among reasons pet custody fights have become more common, attorneys said.
Pet custody cases have grown as much as 15 percent in his office over the last five years, said attorney David Pisarra.
Pets are considered property in every state in the country. For years, they have been divvied up like furniture during divorce proceedings. But times are changing.
"There is a shifting consciousness," Pisarra said. "Pets are being given greater consideration under the law."
More people have pets than ever before and they consider them part of the family rather than possessions, said Silvana Raso, a family law attorney.
"People are not embarrassed to fight for custody of a pet today. In the past they might have shied away from it because society didn't really accept a pet as anything other than an accessory to your life," she said.
Reaching a pet custody agreement without a lot of help from attorneys and judges will save money, Raso said. Divorces can cost $1,000 and be resolved quickly or cost millions and take years.
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