Who Gets the Family Pet?

It is estimated that as many as 80 million U.S. households own a pet. This figure reflects the importance that the average American family places on pet ownership, so it is unsurprising that many divorcing couples disagree on who should retain custody of a shared animal. Although New York courts have historically viewed animals as property, this trend seems to be changing as more and more couples request pet custody during their divorce proceedings.

Current Law

Under current law, there is very little that a judge can do in regards to determining pet custody. However, as was expressed in a 2013 New York County divorce case, more and more judges seem to be willing to consider what would be best for all concerned when deciding who will retain custody of a pet. This could require an analysis of the following factors:

  • Who purchased the animal;
  • Whose funds were used to purchase the pet;
  • Whether one of the parties received the animal as a gift;
  • Who bore the responsibility of caring for the pet during the marriage;
  • Who spent the most time with the animal;
  • Who kept the animal when the couple separated;
  • The pet’s age and health; and
  • The ability of the parties to care for the animal.

Although acknowledging that pets do not merit the same type of consideration as do children, some judges have determined that they do deserve to be treated as something more than property. However, the best way to ensure that each spouse retains access to a pet is to reach an agreement outside of court and record it in writing. In this way, the parties can determine whether they will share custody of a pet, who will bear primary responsibility for veterinarian visits or pay for dog walkers, and how often each party will have access to the animal.

Contact the Bombardo Law Office, P.C. Today to Speak With an Experienced Syracuse Family Law Attorney

As the number of couples purchasing pets continues to increase, it can be expected that the number of court cases related to pet ownership upon divorce will also go up. Although this area of family law is evolving, it is still a good idea to take these issues into account during divorce proceedings, so if you are considering a divorce and have questions about property division, including who will get the family pet, please contact Bombardo Law Office, P.C. at 315-488-5555 to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney.

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