For most people, pets are full-fledged members of the family, which can lead to a bitter conflict when a couple files for divorce. Traditionally, the legal system has treated dogs and cats like any other part of the marital estate, subject to the property distribution laws of the state. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, with courts in many states making decisions based on the best interests of all parties.
What Happens to Pets During a Divorce
Special Consideration in Case Law
While family law judges don’t consider the sole interests of the pet when making a custody decision, many jurisdictions recognize that dogs and cats are fundamentally different from furniture or savings accounts. Instead of simply including the pet in the property distribution after a divorce, judges in New York and many other states will consider a variety of factors to determine what arrangement is best for the family and the animal itself.
Factors Influencing a Judge’s Decision
Like any other property, if either spouse owned the animal before the marriage, the court will almost always decide that it isn’t part of the marital estate. While the court will also consider which spouse actually purchased or acquired the animal, other factors may be more important. For instance, if one spouse spent more time with the pet, primarily handled the feeding and grooming, and paid for medical care, the judge may decide that the animal is better off with them. Where the children will live and the quality of their emotional attachment with the pet is also an important consideration that could impact a judge’s decision.
Disputes over custody of a pet can be contentious and emotionally painful, which is why you need an attorney with an in-depth understanding of property distribution and family law. For over 30 years, John E. Bach Attorney at Law has served clients throughout Orange County, NY, providing individualized attention and strategies based around your goals. Visit their website for more on their divorce and property distribution expertise, or call (845) 294-7941 to schedule a consultation today.