VICKIE LYNN COCHRAN attorney at law
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Pawing through a pet dispute in an Arkansas divorce

Houses are the often most valuable asset most Little Rock couples have, but the worth isn't always about property value. Emotions are tied to a marital home. Sentimental attachments to property often cause conflicts in divorce settlements, including disputes over pets.

Many people don't think of pets as property, but Arkansas courts do. Some divorcing spouses work out pet support or visitation plans. Divorce agreements certainly may contain those arrangements, but what happens when you can't agree?

You can take this issue to court, but legal advisers recommend finding a solution before going that far. A pet mediator may help resolve the problem. Be prepared to support your case, whether you use a mediator or seek a court's ruling.

A child's attachment to a pet can add leverage to a case. The decision could hinge on which ex-spouse has the means, space and time to devote to a pet. Spouses who never fed, walked or took a pet to a vet during marriage would have a hard time convincing a judge they suddenly are willing to do those things.

A man in a Midwestern state is fighting tooth and nail to reclaim the dog he gave up after separating from his wife. The estranged pet owners have been battling over "Pepper" and other issues for two years. The husband wants visitation rights, but he may have jeopardized his chances.

Last spring, the man stopped by his wife's residence and took the dog. The husband claims the dog willingly accompanied him, but the wife said Pepper was dog-napped. The wife was granted a protection order and consequently, a court refused the husband's request to gain access to the dog.

Under Arkansas divorce laws, pets are property subject to equitable distribution. Technically, you could sell the pet and split the proceeds. In reality, emotions likely will compel you to seek other legal solutions.

Source:  Chicago Sun-Times, "Pepper the pooch is the focus of a divorce dispute" Stefano Esposito, Jul. 21, 2014

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