Besides child custody, property division, or alimony, one of the most contentious topics in divorce law is pet custody. Divorcing couples will engage in a heated battled for the custody of their beloved dog, cat, or even horse.
In such cases, pets are typically treated like property in family law court proceedings, but that is beginning to change as some state courts have promoted the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals. In 2017, Alaska became the first state to enact legislation regarding pet custody, allowing the courts to consider the pet’s well-being. In New York’s neighboring state of Rhode Island, a state representative has introduced a similar bill to Alaska’s.
New York courts have expressly held that pets are not considered children, so the custody of the family pet will not be based on the standard of “the best interests of the child.” However, pets may not be treated as personal property either. Rather, to determine custody of pets, New York courts will use a “best for all concerned” standard.
A court will consider the following factors when determining which party should obtain custody of the family pet:
- Who bought or rescued the pet?
- Which spouse primarily took care of the pet during the marriage?
- Which spouse was responsible for paying any expenses associated with the pet?
Additionally, when a judge considers pet “time-sharing,” he or she also considers the presence of children. In cases where children are involved in a divorce, the pet typically remains in the home where the children will be residing. Since divorce can be traumatic itself, the potential of losing a pet can have a negative impact on the kids.