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DivorceWho Gets Custody of a Dog or Cat in a New York Divorce?

March 11, 2014

When marriages and relationships end in New York, the parties frequently fight about who gets custody of the couple’s dog or cat? How are disputes involving family pets resolved? Are the four legged family members to be distributed like a sofa or a television or is custody to be awarded like children?

Historically, family pets were treated like personal property when the pet owners separated. As previously discussed here, in New York pet custody cases the present trend is neither to treat pets as personal property nor as children in a custody case, though they may be, in some cases, as beloved. To do so, would be unworkable and further strain an already burdened judicial system.

Recently, as discussed by Neil Cahn, an upstate court announced that:

Today, we should take the next step in recognizing that pets are more than just “personal property” when it comes to resolving a dispute between owners. In such disputes, to adopt the characterization . . . [that] pets should be recognized as a “special category of property”

Unlike the best interests of the child standard in child custody cases, the court will use a new “best for all concerned” standard to determine pet custody. In determining which party should obtain custody of the family pet, a court will consider:

  • How the pet was acquired
  • How the pet was cared for during the relationship
  • the actual arrangement between the parties for spending time with pet after the parties split up.

As in the New York City case, the dog custody trial will be winner-take-all. The court will not award shared custody or set a visitation schedule as it would in a child custody case; to do so would result in ongoing litigation every time there was an issue with the pet access schedule

Since New York divorce courts are often compelled to try cases over more mundane issues, it is proper for the court to devout some time to ensure that loyal pet lands in the proper home. While the trial is high stakes, not having shared custody or mandated visitation ensures closure.

Image Courtesy of Flikr  Licensed by Tim Baker

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