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Understanding New York pet custody

On Behalf of | Dec 12, 2023 | Divorce

Pets are more than just animal companions; in many cases, they are precious family members. As a result, it can be difficult to decide who they stay with after a divorce.

New York historically treated pets as possessions in divorce cases, subjecting them to its property division laws in the same way it did vases and cars. However, as of 2021, courts now treat pets similarly to children in a divorce, considering their best interests when determining who they go with. This involves weighing several factors.

Who bore primary responsibility for the pet?

Courts want to know who bought the pet. Generally, if one person came into the marriage with the pet, he or she remains with that individual. However, the court also wants to know who took care of the pet during the marriage since that person is more likely to continue providing decent care after the divorce. Care includes activities like feeding, grooming, walking and bringing the animal to the veterinarian. It may also include paying for pet supplies and medical care.

Who has the financial ability to continue caring for the pet?

Pets can be expensive, especially if they have special needs. Many purebred animals need extra attention or pricier supplies. Courts assess each spouse’s capacity to provide for the pet’s needs, including medical care, quality food and a suitable living environment. They want to ensure that the pet continues to enjoy a comfortable and stable life after the divorce.

Are there minor children attached to the pet?

If there are minor children, courts may take their relationships with pets into account. Maintaining stability and continuity in the lives of children is a priority, and if there exists a strong pet-child bond, it may influence the court’s decision on ownership.

According to the American Pet Products Association, 70% of U.S. households had a pet of some sort in 2021 and 2022. Pets can be a major source of controversy during a divorce. Mediation can help divorcing couples reach an amicable solution, but when they cannot agree, the court generally places pets based on their best interests. This applies to domestic pets, not farmyard animals.

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