Who Gets Custody of the Pets in Your Long Island Divorce?
When we started our Long Island Divorce and Family Law practice years ago, the question of which spouse kept the beloved dog or house cat was rarely, if ever, raised in divorce proceedings on Long Island. However, in today’s society, many people treat their pets as members of the family. In many cases pets are treated just as well and loved nearly as much as they treat and love our their own children. This is all well and good until one spouse initiates a divorce and the reality of establishing two separate households, and the fact that the beloved family pet will only reside in one of those households, kicks in.
How are Divorcing Couples on Long Island Dealing with Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet?
Similar to a child custody determination, in order to ensure the most favorable outcome for you, your spouse and your beloved family pet, reaching an agreement with your spouse outside of court is always preferred. You and your spouse have free reign to reach any agreement regarding your pet you desire, provided the agreement is legal. For example, you could agree that the pet travels between residences with your children so the children and the pet are always together; you could agree that the pet spends one week with you and one week with your spouse; you could agree that the pet spends weekdays with you and weekends with your spouse. If you are able to reach an agreement with your spouse, the possibilities are endless. With that being said, I understand that reaching an agreement with your spouse about a sensitive topic is never as easy as it sounds and when that happens you, your spouse, and your pet, are at the mercy of the Long Island court system.
Don’t Leave it to the Courts to Decide
Some Nassau and Suffolk County divorce Judges recognize that, despite the long standing proposition that pets are property subject to distribution just the same as your car, furniture or fancy artwork, no one views their pets as property anymore. In this instances, judges will conduct an inquiry similar to that in which he or she would conduct in making a child custody determination. The judge will seek answers to questions such as who took the pet to the veterinarian; who was primarily responsible for feeding, walking, bathing and grooming the pet. Essentially, what some courts look at is who was the pet’s primary caretaker during the marriage. In stark contrast to this however are the courts and judges who refuse to engage in what they believe to be unnecessary litigation which will waste the court’s resources. These judges will either order the pet to be sold and the proceeds from the sale split (just as they would with a car or a piece of art that no one can agree who gets to keep), or inquire as to who purchased the pet, whose name is on the pet’s registration, etc. to determine who the rightful owner of the property (in this case the pet) is. As you can see, if you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement regarding your beloved family pet during your divorce, you truly are at the mercy of whichever Judge gets assigned to oversee your matter.
What About Service and Emotional Support Animals?
The short answer is yes – service animals. A service animal, traditionally a dog, is specifically trained to assist an individual who suffers from a disability, traditionally an audio, visual or physical disability limiting the individual’s movements. If you or your spouse has a service animal, the service animal will remain with you or your spouse after the divorce. In recent years we have seen the emergence of what are none as “emotional support animals”, typically dogs. Because the standard to have an animal qualified as an emotional support animal is looser than the requirements to have an animal qualified as a service animal, courts are less likely to grant the emotional support animal the same exception, especially if the animal was registered as an emotional support animal shortly before or during the divorce proceeding.
Change in Pet Custody Rules on the Horizon?
Within the last two years, at least two states, specifically Illinois and Alaska, passed legislation requiring courts to take the well-being of the animal into consideration in custody disputes. With the sentiment that pets are family members on the rise, it is expected that more and more states will pass legislation similar to that which was passed in Illinois and Alaska. However for now, New York still looks at your beloved pet as property, and, because of that, it is in your best interest to reach an agreement with your spouse regarding who gets the dog.
Do You Have Questions About Pet or Child Custody? We Can Help
If you have questions or need advice about pet or child custody, we can help. Contact our Long Island Divorce & Family Law firm at 631-923-1910 to set up your free consultation with one of our experienced Divorce and Family Law attorneys.
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