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Pet Custody in New York: Who Keeps the Family Pet After Divorce?

As a divorce attorney practicing on Long Island I am not surprised by the frequency with which I meet with Nassau County and Suffolk County couples who are concerned with who will get custody of the family pet after their divorce.

New York courts have traditionally considered cats and dogs to be “personal property” for the purpose of equitable distribution of marital assets in divorce. This means that pets were treated just as a car or piece of jewelry when it came to determining who gets what in divorce.

Pets Not Simply Personal Property Anymore

Recently, however, there have been instances in which judges have ordered custody arrangements for a pet. Because pets are companions that play a cherished role in the family, the “distribution” of the family pet may not be so cut and dry. Courts in Nassau County and Suffolk County are now moving away from the view that pets are strictly “personal property” for the purpose of distributing marital assets. Instead, these courts now look to a variety of factors to determine which arrangement will best support the best interests of the “parents” as well as the animal companion. Many believe that, since courts spend time dividing finances and material assets, they should also determine who keeps the family pet when the spouses cannot agree.

Pet Custody Not As Complex as Child Custody

While we have strong feelings for our pets, they are certainly not children, and some question that the already limited judicial resources in our state should be put to better use. Considering the ever-increasing caseload in divorce courts, it is simply not feasible for judges to devote the time, expense and resources to conduct complex proceedings that mirror resource-intensive child custody cases.

One-Day Trial for Pet Custody Proposed

One proposed solution entails that divorcing pet owners be entitled to a one-day trial to determine custody of a beloved family pet. The court would take one day only to review the facts and circumstances of the case and then apply a standard of what is in the best interest of all concerned. The parties would each have the opportunity to prove how he or she would be a more capable and loving provider and companion for the family pet than the other “parent.” They would need to argue factors such as who was mainly responsible for caring for the pet’s needs during the marriage, who has spent and can spend the most time with the pet, and who has had interim custody of the pet while the divorce was pending and why. Although there is no clear standard in the pet custody cases, it appears that courts will look to the “best interests” of the parties (which does not always include the best interests of the pet because, as one court in New York has put it, “dogs do not have rights.”)

Best To Work It Out of Court

As in any divorce-related dispute, it is best for the parties to make private arrangements through mediation and compromise to avoid lengthy divorce proceedings. Usually, the best results for both sides are obtained this way. For some couples, a private agreement may involve shared custody or visitation periods with their pet. A court may not see fit to order such an arrangement and so, if it is a possibility, you might consider reaching such an agreement on your own. To the contrary, courts in New York have held that ordering pet visitation could open the door to a flood of such cases that courts are not prepared to handle.

Questions About Child Custody and Visitation on Long Island?

To learn more about what you need to know about Child Custody on Long Island, visit this page on Child Custody or contact us at 631-923-1910 for a complimentary consultation.

Contact an Experienced Long Island Divorce Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you are considering or involved in divorce, it is best to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer on Long Island that can help you understand your rights and obligations in your unique set of circumstances. Contact the Long Island Law Office of Robert E. Hornberger, P.C. today at 631-923-1910 to schedule your free consultation with a Long Island Divorce Lawyer.

 

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