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The Gilmer Law Firm, PLLC represents individuals in both matrimonial actions in New York City. I have noticed a growing trend in pet custody cases over the years. This blog will give the reader an idea on how the law is applied in cases of this type. Knowing the law will help the reader prepare to win a pet custody case in New York. It is estimated that 68% of homes have a pet (dogs, cats, etc) in the United States. Pets give unconditional love, can reduce stress/anxiety, lower blood pressure, and may help with child development. Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions. Pets undoubtedly become a part of the family. Because of this, it is inevitable that disputes over the ownership of dogs, cats, and other animals will occur between those in divorce actions and between non-married individuals.

Custody of Pets in a Divorce: Best Interests and Best for All

Pursuant to the Domestic Relationship Law marital property includes all property obtained by both parties during the marriage and before the divorce is started. Who bought the property during this time period doesn’t matter. Marital property does not include property obtained prior to the marriage or to a gift, inheritance, or via a properly executed agreement between both spouses during or before a marriage (prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements). 

According to the domestic relations law marital property is to be divided equitably between the parties based upon a number of statutory factors.  

The question of who gets custody of a dog, cat, or other animals in a  divorce can be highly contentious, similar to what happens in contested custody battles. Although people may stop loving their spouses, they will not stop loving their pets.

Courts for years have struggled to determine how to award the custody of pets in divorce. In divorce cases, animals were originally treated as chattel, which is property other than real estate. Therefore standards involving property disputes were used rather than a spouse’s ability to care for the animal and their emotional ties to the animal. 

The courts eventually realized that because of the cherished place that pets have in our society, a strict property analysis wasn’t appropriate.  The courts have switched to the best interests standard in and best for all standard in divorce cases. The distinction is subtle. It appears that courts will apply both standards in making a decision.  In determining what party will win custody of a dog or cat or other animals in New York the Court will evaluate the following:  

  • What party will benefit the most from having the animal in their lives (best for all standard); and in both the best interests and best for all analysis;
  • Who will best promote the living, prospering, loving, and being loved in the care of the animal;
  • Who was the primary caretaker of the animal (feeding, grooming, veterinarian visits, etc.);
  • Who spent more time with the animal;
  • If there was separation, who was the animal left with and why? and
  • The quality of the home environment of the respective parties.

Thus the party that wins custody of the dog or cat in New York will have to convince the Court that they better meet the above factors by the preponderance of evidence. This will require the testimony of both parties; possibly testimony of other witnesses that can attest to whom the above factors apply the most; and perhaps documentary proof (eg. emails, texts between parties and other individuals, or written agreements) that prove the above factors.

The Gilmer Law Firm, PLLC has 20 years of experience representing individuals in divorces and civil matters in New York City and practices in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island. Call for a free phone consultation, at 718-864-2011 on how to win your pet custody case.