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How Do I Get Custody of My Pets In My Long Island Divorce?

Pet Custody Long Island DivorceAlong with divorce on Long Island comes the heart-wrenching questions of which partner will be awarded physical custody of the children, who will continue living in the marital home, and at times most one of the most difficult questions, who retains physical custody of beloved family pets? Unfortunately, for some, the battle over which spouse gets to keep the cherished family pet can be almost as grueling and heartbreaking as the issue of custody of the children. Recently, a Manhattan court found itself faced with the issue of pet custody upon divorce, and provided guidance for divorcing couples on Long Island as to who will be awarded custody and how that decision may be reached.

Recent New York Divorce Case Involving Pet Custody Provides Guidance

The court case, Travis v. Murray, centered on a miniature dachshund named Joey that the plaintiff had purchased with her own money before the parties were married. It was alleged that the defendant had wrongfully removed the dog from the marital residence.  Once the plaintiff realized the defendant had removed the dog, she filed a motion with the court for sole custody of the pet, claiming that he was in fact her property because she had personally purchased the dog, and that it was in Joey’s best interests to be returned to her care because she had been the sole caregiver. The defendant, however, countered the plaintiff’s arguments, and alleged that Joey had in fact been a gift from the plaintiff to the defendant, and that the defendant shared in financial, emotional, and practical caretaking of Joey, and therefore the defendant was entitled to custody of the couple’s pet. The question was up to the judge to determine what approach to take – a traditional property approach, or a case-by-case analysis of the best interests of all involved.

What is the Law on Long Island Regarding Pet Custody?

Long Island divorces are covered by New York State law. Historically, the prevailing law in the state of New York was that pets were strictly personal property (chattel), and therefore the laws of property would apply. Therefore, in order for a party to regain physical custody of a pet removed from his or her possession, an action in replevin (return of chattel) was necessary. However, with the rise in number of individuals who love their pets as they do their own children, the law has been swaying away from traditional laws of property and toward classifying pets as “somewhere in between a person and a personal piece of property.” Travis v. Murray, 977 N.Y.S.2d 621, 627 (2013).  Accordingly, courts have recently been deciding issues of pet custody on an individualized, case-by-case basis.

Pet Custody Has Different Rules Than Child Custody in NY

While you may believe that this means the courts will apply a traditional child custody analysis to situations of pet custody, this is not the case. When determining child custody, the courts look to what living situation would be in the best situation of the child, and this is too subjective a standard to be applied to pet custody cases. Furthermore, child custody proceedings generally call for an attorney for the children, interviews with teachers, care givers, doctors and personal testimony from the children as to their wants and desires concerning their living situation. Such information is practically impossible to obtain in pet custody cases; one cannot realistically objectively gauge the emotions of a pet.

Pet Custody Cases Awarded Court Hearings on Long Island, NY

Therefore, if you find yourself in a pet custody battle, you will be happy to know that you will be awarded a hearing in court. The standard used during this hearing would be the “best for all concerned” standard, which places importance not only upon what situation is best for the pet, but also upon what situation is best for you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Accordingly, you both would be permitted to present evidence showing who spent more time with the animal, who took the animal to the vet, who was the animal’s primary caregiver, and whatever else the judge may find to be important.

Joint Pet Custody Not Addressed by New York Courts

Unfortunately however, the court in Travis v. Murray did not address the issue of joint custody over pets. Rather, it seemed to expressly reject this notion when it stated “[t]he extension of an award of possession of a dog to include visitation or joint custody . . . would only serve as an invitation for endless post-divorce litigation.”  Id.  Therefore, it seems as though whichever partner is awarded custody of the animal at the hearing will retain sole physical custody to the exclusion of the other.

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.

Address Pet Custody Issues With Your Long Island Divorce Attorney

In order to avoid the issue of pet custody in court all together, you should discuss the matter with your divorce attorney and attempt to reach a resolution with your partner that will satisfy both of you outside of court. The divorce attorneys at Hornberger Verbitsky, P.C. have successfully negotiated appropriate Pet Custody arrangements for Long Island couples outside of a the restrictive rules of a Nassau County or Suffolk County courtroom. Give us a call at 631-923-1910 to schedule a free consultation where we can discuss your Pet Custody or any other issues of your divorce in our comfortable offices in Melville, NY. If you prefer, you can fill out the form on this page and we will contact you to schedule your appointment.