There are many considerations in a complicated contested divorce: custody and visitation of any minor children, a property settlement, alimony and child support, and ongoing personal and financial obligations. One additional complication being considered more often by couples and courts alike is the family pet. Dogs and cats are rarely addressed by state divorce laws, forcing many family court judges to make their own determinations of the pet's best interest and to issue a custody ruling. Based on this lack of legal instructions, divorcing couples in California and throughout the country are finding themselves at odds over a seemingly simple decision: who gets Fido after the divorce?

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, family law attorneys have reported a 23 percent increase in pet custody cases in recent years. This is because many American families now consider a pet a member of that family, and not just a piece of property, as used to be the view. Although the custody issue is by far the most widely adjudicated, divorcing couples often find themselves disagreeing over issues such as veterinarian bills, pet care, medical treatment, and how long to prolong a pet's life before putting it to sleep.

Couples with minor children may find this decision a relatively easy one. For young children with parents going through a divorce, who are finding themselves being shuttled between new homes and families, a pet can be the one constant in a suddenly chaotic life. If children are able to bring a pet back and forth with them as they move between homes, that animal can provide a significant emotional benefit to a child, and can also halt a pet custody dispute before it even begins.

Many divorcing couples are not that lucky, however. Some judges require a showing that it is in the pet's best interest to award the animal to one party or the other, and often award joint custody if it is clear that the pet would fare well with both. It remains to be seen whether California or other states will enact solid pet custody laws to deal with this growing area of family and divorce law.

Source: Huffington Post, "Who Gets The Pet In A Divorce?", Jill Brooke, 10 January 2011