Who gets the pets in a divorce?
Bitter disputes sometimes arise over child custody, money and other issues during divorce. With many people considering pets a part of the family, disagreements over who keeps the family pet can also cause problems.
How do courts decide who gets the family pets in a divorce?
For a long time, most state laws considered family pets to be property subject to division in the same way as any other marital property. In New York, judges divide marital property equitably, which means they have some discretion to decide what they think is fair. However, because the courts can not divide a pet and receiving half the economic value of a pet in a divorce settlement is not a satisfying outcome for most people, judges faced a dilemma in deciding what was fair.
Many states, including New York, now have laws that specifically address the custody of pets after a divorce. Instead of treating pets like property, judges now must consider the best interests of the pet, similarly to how they consider the best interests of children when deciding child custody cases. However, except in cases where there is a clear history of abuse or neglect or one party can not provide a suitable home for the pet, judges are still left with a difficult decision.
In many cases, it is best for everyone for the two parties to work out a custody or visitation schedule between them, rather than leaving it up to a judge. If you can not reach an agreement with your spouse, alternative resolutions, such as working with a mediator, may be helpful.