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Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Am Getting a Divorce, can I get custody of my Dog or Cat?

For many New Yorkers, our four legged pets are extremely important members of our family and what happens to them when a couple divorces has become an important topic of conversation in social circles and within the legal community.

Traditionally, dogs and cats have been considered personal property, just like a car, furniture or television set and legal possession of a dog or cat after a divorce was something the divorcing parties needed to agree upon. If a divorce case went to trial, the pet’s value would be determined and he or she would be assigned to one party in the court ordered division of property.

Over the last couple of years, issues of pet “custody” have been brought in front of the courts by parties in several states and several judges have recently been willing to look at the cases beyond assigning a simple monetary value to the dogs involved. The approaches to resolving these cases are almost as varied as the cases themselves but courts are considering things like:

  • The best interests of the pet – including each owner’s work schedule, their means to provide for the pet and the space available to the pet at each spouse’s home after the divorce
  • Custody to of any children and their attachment to the pet
  • The behavior of each former spouse toward the pet

What about pet custody in New York?

In Brooklyn, New York this question is particularly timely as a local judge is about to address pet custody in New York family court for the first time. The case is Travis v. Murray, 308310/13. The case involves former spouses who are fighting over the custody of their shared miniature dachshund, Joey. Both women would like to keep Joey and since they have been unable to reach an agreement, Judge Matthew Cooper agreed to set the case for a hearing in his November 29, 2013 decision. Judge Cooper indicated in his opinion that he will ultimately make a decision about the custody of the dog in question by looking at “what is ‘best for all concerned,’”. This means that regardless of the outcome of this particular case, family courts in New York may be inclined to look at the factors he lays out in his decision including:

  • Who bore the major responsibility for the dog’s needs when the couple was together?
  • Who spent more time with the dogs on a regular basis?
  • Why did one party leave the dogs with the other party upon separation?
  • Where will the dog live if custody is given to one party over the other party?

If you are considering a divorce and have four legged “children” you will want to do your best to either reach an agreement with your former spouse about the pets. However, if you aren’t able to, it looks like the courts will now be willing to step in and help make that decision for you both. This is great news for pet parents who are concerned about the health and happiness of their four legged kids.

If you have questions about your specific situation, I’d be happy to answer your questions about pet custody and how it may play out in your New York divorce. 


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