Pets are precious members of the family and as such, they become a hot-button issue in cases of separation and divorce.
However, no matter how strongly pet parents feel about their beloved companions, courts cannot equate pet custody to child custody in contested divorce cases.
Pet custody criteria in New York
Judges determine child custody arrangements by considering the best interests of the child, but when charged with deciding where the family dog, cat or bearded dragon should reside, New York courts use the following criteria:
- Who legally owns the pet?
- How did the pet join the family (purchased, adopted or gifted)?
- Which of the parties took on most of the pet care during the marriage?
- Who is in the best position to meet the daily needs of the pet?
- What pet custody arrangements have the parties agreed to post-split?
Due to caseload issues, not all courts will agree to hold pet hearings, and these judges may issue an order for animals that follows the child visitation schedule or leave the pet custody decisions entirely to the parties.
Special considerations for service animals
Registered service animals aid persons afflicted with disabilities such as visual, hearing or mobility impairments. As such, the party in need will likely retain ownership of the service animal after the divorce.
Because the law regarding live beings is everchanging, judges’ decisions often occur in a gray area of the law between custody and personal property. Therefore, it is important to understand how courts in your district typically approach the subject of pet guardianship in divorce cases.