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If you are a pet owner, chances are good that your dog or cat is more than just a pet to you. For many Americans, pets are family members in much the same way as their children are. Perhaps it comes as little surprise, then, that pet custody disputes are an increasing trend in family law and are sometimes as contentious as child custody and visitation cases.

Some of the first pet custody disputes were actually argued in Florida courts in the 1990s. Since then, the number of divorce cases involving disagreements over pet custody has risen steadily. A recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that over the past five years, 27 percent of family law attorneys in the AAML have noticed an uptick in divorce cases that involve a pet custody dispute.

It should be noted that courts aren’t always willing to entertain such disputes. In many states, pets are considered property. As such, judges may be unwilling to treat disagreements over pet custody and visitation with the same time and careful consideration given to child custody matters.

That being said, times and attitudes are changing. The results of the AAML survey revealed that 22 percent of family law attorneys have seen a greater willingness on the part of courts to hear pet custody cases.

If you can’t imagine post-divorce life without your beloved dog or cat, you may be willing to fight for pet custody in cases where courts allow such a dispute. Be aware, however, that pet custody cases are often emotionally fraught and can sometimes add significant time and expense to a legal process that already tends to be expensive and lengthy. As such, please take these risks into consideration when talking to your attorney about pet custody issues.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Fighting Over Cats and Dogs During a Divorce,” Maria Cognetti, March 24, 2014