Who Gets Custody of Pets in Divorce?

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In divorce wars, there is a potential new battle over pets. The New York State legislature has passed a bill addressing who gets custody of pets in divorce. The bill has not been forwarded to the Governor as yet and it remains to be seen whether the new Governor will sign it. However, if it is signed, it may become another contentious issue for divorcing couples to fight over and a court to decide. Further, there are many questions about how the law will be implemented.

New York’s existing law provides that pets are property. If they were acquired before the marriage, they are considered separate property and belong to the spouse who acquired them. If they were acquired during the marriage, they are marital property.

The new bill eliminates the distinction between animals acquired before and during the marriage. Instead, it requires the court to consider the best interest of a “companion animal” when awarding possession in a divorce or separation proceeding. A “companion animal” is defined as any dog, cat or other domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner or person who cares for such other domesticated animal. It does not include a “farm animal.”

Assuming the bill is signed, how courts will implement it is unclear. Among the questions are how will courts investigate and decide whose home would be in the best interest of the pet? What factors will be most/least important in making that determination? Will shared custody be an option? While there may be clear-cut cases of who should get custody, many situations are likely to be more complicated.

The best option is for spouses to settle the matter on their own. Taking this issue to court will prolong the case along with a degree of risk of losing because it will be hard to predict how a judge will rule.

If you are considering divorce, contact us to discuss how we can help you get the best outcome in your case.

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