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Pet Peeves: Who Gets Custody of Family Pets in Divorce?

Our legal system generally regards pets as property – like a sofa or television set. But while the market value of a mutt may be virtually negligible, his human owners may well consider him to be absolutely priceless.

One New York man has spent his life savings – over $60,000 – trying to win custody of a beloved dog from his ex.

The New York Family Court Act §842 has been extended to include pets as protected family members in Orders of Protection. And in determining the equitable division of marital property for a divorce, courts are increasingly being asked to consider the best interests of a pet, much as a child’s best interests are examined in custody hearings.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund advises those involved in an animal custody dispute to consult an attorney, and to be prepared to substantiate such points as:

  • Whether the pet was owned by you before the marriage (separate property), or you were the one who adopted or purchased it during the marriage (marital property). Provide adoption paperwork and receipts
  • Whether you were the animal’s primary caregiver during the marriage. Provide receipts for veterinary care, grooming, training classes, food, etc.
  • Whose name is on licensing and microchip records
  • Who usually walked the pet or took him or her to the park. Provide affidavits from neighbors
  • Existing bonds with children. The children’s primary custodian may have an advantage in getting custody of pets, since this may be considered in the best interests of the children.

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