Robert G. Smith, PLLC

You probably love your pets more than your chairs

In the U.S., we love our pets. And we demonstrate that love by spending. In 2013, we spent $55.7 billion on our pets. This amount has almost tripled in raw dollars since the industry began tracking the numbers in 1996. According to the president of an industry trade group, this explosion of spending has been the result of pets being treated like "little humans."

One place in the U.S. where pets are typically not treated like little humans is family court. In the average New York family court, dogs, cats and any other pets are seen with a decidedly less anthropomorphic and emotional perspective and generally are not subject to a child custody-like order. Your beloved little dog or cat is viewed as personal property. Like a chair. Or a lamp.

During a divorce, if you have strong emotional bonds to the animal, your best plan is to have a section of your divorce settlement that speaks directly to the future ownership, or in some cases, custody of the pet.

If both parties maintain an attachment to the pet, a detailed custody and visitation agreement may have to be drawn up and agreed to by both sides. Drafting an agreement like this may have unexpected complexities, because unlike children, as property a pet may be characterized as either separate or marital property.

These types of negotiations may be similar to other elements of the divorce, and if both parties are willing to cooperate and work together, arriving at a viable solution should be straightforward.

If they are contentious and one party wishes to punish the other by using custody of the pet as a weapon, things will be much more difficult.

Inclusion of pets in a prenuptial agreement, when ownership of the pet precedes the marriage could be another option for some couples.

Source: Parade, "In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?" Michele C. Hollow, August 18, 2014

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