Who Gets the Dog During a Divorce?

Not long ago, judges wouldn’t spend a great deal of time considering what happens to the family pets in a divorce. The family dog or cat was looked upon as just another piece of personal property. Accordingly, whoever purchased the pet or received it as a gift would be most likely to walk away from the relationship with the pet.

However, courts are now becoming more sophisticated in their approach to issues of pet custody. While they don’t necessarily treat these concerns with as much consideration as they do child custody, there seems to be a growing realization that pets are a precious and cherished part of New York families. As such, it seems unfair to treat them as mere property.

Pet Custody and Visitation

Pets add a great deal to our quality of life. We grow immensely attached to them, and often we look to them for companionship and solace during difficult times. Because both parties in a divorce can become excessively attached to the family pet, it is in their best interests to come up with an amicable plan for custody and visitation.

An increasing number of divorcing couples are taking precisely this approach. One spouse will take on primary responsibility for the family pet while the other will share those responsibilities according to a pre-arranged schedule. If both parties can agree on a schedule and can further work out who will pay for expenses associated with care of the pet, then there is no need for the court’s further involvement.

Like Children, it often comes down to what’s in the pet’s best interest

On the other hand, some families cannot seem to agree on who will keep the family pets, nor are they able to reach a consensus on visitation and paying for expenses. Judges in these cases may be called on to decide these issues for the family. Several factors are likely to be taken into consideration. For instance, the judge will look at who provided most of the care for the pet. In other words, who was feeding, grooming and walking the dog? Who took it to the vet, and who did the pet spend most of their time with? Did one of the spouses move out of the marital home, leaving the pet behind? If so, why?

Ultimately, the judge will probably reach a decision based on these and other factors. Most judges are likely to apply a “best interests” standard, much like they do when deciding who should be the primary custodial parent of any minor children. In fact, some judges have been known to allow the family pet to go to the same home where the children will be primarily living. This allows for greater stability for the children and provides them with a measure of comfort in a difficult situation.

Divorce is difficult on everyone involved. It is easier to reach sensible solutions that serve everyone’s best interests when you work with a qualified New York family lawyer. Contact the practitioners at Klein & Sanchez to learn more about their compassionate, sensible approach to marriage dissolution.

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