Ft. Lauderdale, FL- At least 62 percent of American households have at least one cat or dog with a large fraction of households having two or more furry friends. We care so much about our pets that we look at them like our children, spend an estimated $50 billion on then each year. We can’t ever imagine living without them, and that’s what can make divorce even more painful for a pet owner.

Increasingly, pets are becoming the subject of bitter custody battles, forcing divorce court judges to reevaluate how they view pets in the context of divorce.  In the future, pets could be treated more like children and less like property in divorce settlements.

The long-standing rule for divorce courts is to treat pets as if they are property, a view that fails to recognize the emotional connection people have to their pets. When a couple splits, Fido is not treated live beloved member of the family, but more like the living room furniture both spouses want to keep. The

But a New York case, involving a lesbian couple and their miniature dachshund, may actually begin to slowly change the way courts decide pet custody. It won’t happen immediately and, in general, family and divorce courts are so overwhelmed with child custody and asset division issues justices are reluctant to spend much, if any, time on the pet custody issue. But as the courts begin to encounter this issue over and over again, they may be forced to establish more appropriate rules that recognize the love people have for their pets.

In the New York case, a judge set aside and entire day of court to discuss custody and the welfare of the Trisha Murray’s and Shannon Travis’ and beloved two-year old pooch, Joey.

Murray bought Joey for Travis and financially supported the dog, but Travis maintained Joey was hers since he was given to her, USA Today reported. Setting aside a day to discuss the best interest of Joey is unique and may have an effect on future cases.

Conflicts over pets, if possible, should be handled before between the estranged couple and their divorce attorney prior to court. We know that isn’t always possible, but a couple should make their best effort.

Animal companions can enrich our lives in many ways, but when it comes to divorce, a beloved pet can become an acrimonious issue.  There are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself if you and your estranged spouse can’t decide who should keep your four-legged family member:

Why do you want to keep the pet?

Let’s be honest, divorce can bring out the ugly in people and some battles over custody, both pet and child, and assets can be more about getting even with the person who broke your heart. The best interest of the best should take precedent over the need to hurt your ex.

Which of spouse has more time to care for the pet?

Fact is, some people work long hours and spend more time away than they actually spend at home. A cat, for instance, may be okay with that, but to a dog those long periods of separation can lead to anxiety and behavioral problems. Larger and more energetic dogs need a great deal of exercise and stimulation.

Who has the financial means to care for the pet?

Veterinary care, food and other pet needs can be very costly. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, estimates that the average annual cost for a large dog is around $900. A person can expect to pay more if their pet has special dietary needs or chronic medical issues.

How old is the pet?

If your cat or dog is older, moving them to a new environment or shuffling them about may not be good for their health. Uprooting them and forcing them to live a totally new environment can be detrimental in the long run.

A divorce attorney can help a couple with come up with a visitation and guide them into making a wise decision about where their pet will live.