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Do you feel like your dogs are just like little furry toddlers? Is having a cat almost like having a four-footed child?

If that's how you feel about your pets, you are definitely not alone. Americans love their pets -- which is why it's a often a distressing reality for divorcing couples to find out that the family pet is treated like a piece of property that has to be assigned an owner. Over the years, this has allowed pets to become tools of revenge by one spouse over another and led to a lot of unnecessary grief.

No longer -- at least, not in California.

California is often on the social forefront of change. Now, it's helping rewrite the rules by which pets are treated when the pet "parents" split up. Judges now have the power to essentially treat the family pet like a surrogate child for a divorcing couple, awarding shared custody or primary custody and visitation rights -- along with support.

There are critics that absolutely hate the new law. They argue that it will create more backlog in the family courts and potentially give too many rights to animals. Others, however, greatly welcome the measure and point out that it's always been a little disjointed to have anti-cruelty laws in place in regard to animals, particularly pets, then treat them like a piece of furniture in a divorce.

How could this law affect your divorce? Certainly, if you feel like you should have more right to the dog or cat than your spouse, it's going to be important to spend some time in discussion with your divorce attorney about the situation. One thing's for sure, though -- pets will no longer be "merely property" that one spouse can use against each other for leverage.

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