It’s becoming more common to see custody battles over the family pets these days, but for the most part, the courts and prevailing judges look at our furry kids as property, not family. They are to be divvied up like our possessions— you get the flat screen TV and I get the dog. And that’s when the war begins.

Family law is pretty specific when it comes to resolving matters of child custody and developing parenting plans, but so far, most states haven’t moved toward changing their outlook on our beloved pets. Many judges simply believe that if we add pet custody into the mix, cases will take longer to resolve, and they aren’t anxious to journey into unprecedented territory, either.

Today, many of us believe that pets are part of the family and we are definitely spending the bucks on them. Even in a tough economy, pet owners spent almost $51 billion on their furry pals in 2011. Service industries that include grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting, day care, even funeral expenses have surged. We are a nation that loves our pets.

To say it is traumatic to think of giving up your best friend and constant companion is an understatement. One solution for a couple going through a divorce or separation can be shared custody. Yes, you can create a parenting plan to define all the specifics (even the difficult ones), just as you would with children. As odd as it sounds, putting to paper your visiting schedule, division of expenses, and decision-making protocols will make it easier to be good co-pet-parents. Don’t assume you are on the same page as your ex when it comes to specifics, but getting there is just a matter of good communication and writing it all down.

Just as you would with your child, you must keep the best interests of your pets in mind. Some questions a court of law might consider if presiding over a pet custody case would be: who physically cares for the pet; who spends the most time with the pet; how well has the pet been cared for; who is best equipped to care and provide for the pet. If there are children, the pet almost always remains with them.

As in all court cases, it can get expensive to fight over custody of the family pets. And there are some who will use their pets as a bargaining tool or even to get revenge against the ex. Just as with children, pets can become innocent bystanders hurt in the wake of an ugly divorce. Don’t allow overflowing emotions and negative feelings to control you, don’t blame your pets. They want only to love you both unconditionally. So do keep what is best for them at heart.