Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

Divorcing spouses may fight over parenting time, support and property division. But for some couples — even those who have millions of dollars to divide — there is an additional contest over who keeps the family pets. From the family dog to various exotic animals, people form an emotional bond with their pets and it adds another potential pitfall to the already stressful divorce process.

As experienced New York divorce lawyers, we encourage clients to do everything they can to avoid forcing a judge to decide what happens with the pets. 

First, it’s important to understand how New York law applies to the issue of pet custody. Essentially, the law treats pets as property. Courts will award ownership of the pet to one spouse or the other, similar to how houses, cars and other personal property are allocated. Typically, the pet is given to the spouse who purchased it. 

Second, putting the judge in the position of deciding pet custody tends to make you and your spouse look petty. Remember, part of divorce litigation is showing the judge that you are a reasonable person who makes good decisions for your children and yourself. A fight over pets doesn’t do much to further that goal.

Rather than bringing pet issues to court, we recommend settling the dispute between yourselves. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to decide who gets the pets:

  • Is one of you keeping the family house with the nice yard while the other is moving to a condo or apartment? Pets are easier to manage in a house with more space.
  • If you want the pets and the house, will you be able to afford the house on a single income?
  • Although you really want the pets, do you actually have the time to take them to the vet, go for walks, clean up after them and do all the things that pet ownership requires?
  • Is one of you moving abroad after the divorce? Certain countries may not allow certain types of animals to enter.

Ideally, pet custody can be resolved as part of negotiations over division of marital property, especially since the two issues may be closely tied. Note also that courts cannot award pet visitation to either spouse, just as a court couldn’t grant a spouse visitation with any other type of property.

The Long Island divorce lawyers of Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C. have handled hundreds of divorces where pet ownership was at issue. We’ll help you get through it. Call 1.631.479.3839 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation. Our Melville-based law firm serves clients across Long Island.

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