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Pets and property division -- staying out of court might be best

Most pet owners in West Virginia would agree that their pets are not property -- they are family. However, for the purpose of property division, state family law treats most people's four-legged babies as little more than another asset that must somehow be divvied up during proceedings. As attitudes towards animals are rapidly changing, some couples are opting to deal with their pet woes outside of the courtroom.

Of Americans aged 30 to 39 years old, 75 percent own a dog. Nationwide, dog owners of all ages and backgrounds spend an average of $1,000 annually for their pooches. While this certainly represents a significant financial investment that most people would not want to lose during divorce, it also represents the deep, emotional connection that owners have with their pets. Despite that emotional connection, pets are still property.

This makes reaching out-of-court agreement desirable for most pet owners, especially those who intend to establish a custody arrangement. These divorcing couples usually work out issues like paying vet bills, travel times, coordinating care during out-of-town trips and the basics of who actually gets the pup or kitten at which times. Parents sometimes choose to fold the pet arrangement in with their child custody agreements. In this situation, pets simply move back and forth whenever the kids do.

Ending a marriage is often emotionally tumultuous even for the most amicable of divorces. The prospect of losing a beloved animal during property division can also be incredibly unnerving. However, most West Virginia couples have various tools -- including mediation and expert guidance from an experienced attorney -- for dealing with such matters.

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