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When Pet Custody is an Issue

Many couples and families own beloved pets. The ties that bind humans to animals sometimes outlast those of human relationships. When that happens, sparks fly when one spouse decides Fido is leaving with him or her.

In a recent survey, the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), reported more than a quarter of its members noted an uptick in divorce actions involving pets. The survey revealed trends that include:

  • Top dogs: With 88 percent of disputes devoted to canine companions, dogs take the top spot in disputed pets, followed by cats, horses and, in one case, a 130-pound turtle.
  • Under consideration: Approximately 22 percent of respondents reported courts are increasingly allowing pet custody cases.
  • Heart to heart: Using pet ownership as a legal strategy during divorce heightens conflict and can extend the acrimony and expense of divorce.

Thoughts to consider when the ownership of your pet is pending during divorce include:

  • Is the animal a family pet?  Where can the children best enjoy the animal?
  • Can you share ownership of the animal?  If you share ownership, how are animal expenses to be paid?  Make decisions at the outset about significant medical expenses the animal may incur.
  • What type of ownership is really best for the animal?

In New York, animal companions are considered property of the marital estate. While a decision in the best interests of the animal makes sense, it is not the legal standard at play when pet ownership is disputed.

Animals occupy a unique space in the lives and hearts of their owners. If you have questions about pets or property during divorce proceedings in Long Island, contact my office, Bryan L. Salamone and Associates, P.C.

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