Pet Custody in a New York Divorce

Countless pet owners will readily admit that their pets are members of the family; however, the traditional approach of divorce courts in New York and many other states has been to treat beloved pets as “property,” much like they would treat a sofa or another inanimate object up for division in a divorce. Understandably, many animal lovers consider this approach to pet custody antiquated, impractical and outdated.

If history has taught us anything, it has demonstrated that a share of divorce battles has centered on other members of the family – our beloved pets. As we mentioned earlier, courts have traditionally treated pets as personal property, often tracing records back to which spouse purchased the animal and bore a receipt with no regard to which spouse actually fed, walked, groomed, and otherwise cared for the animal most of the time. However, we are starting to see a shift in pet custody legislation.

Pet Custody Disputes on the Rise

According to a study of matrimonial attorneys nationwide by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 27 percent of respondents of a survey “noted an increase in pet custody cases during the past five years.” While dogs accounted for 88 percent of the most disputed pets, cats came in second place at 5 percent, with “other” types of pets coming in third at 6 percent, and horses coming in fourth at 1 percent.

In a recent New York County case, Travis v Murray, the couple had no children, and the primary dispute was over custody of their beloved dog. The judge declined to treat the dog as chattel, and instead determined that the dog should be treated as a member of the family and that the appropriate consideration was what was “best for all concerned.” This is similar to the best interests of the child standard, where the court must consider who can best care for the dog, but it also takes into consideration the emotional impact on the dog-owner. The judge set down the issue for a hearing to determine who would be awarded custody of the dog.

To learn more about New York’s pet custody laws, contact Samuelson Hause & Samuelson, LLP today!

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