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Who gets to keep the cat (or dog) in a divorce in New York State?

Divorce is as much a part of current society as marriage – and even the friendliest of divorces can become incredibly complicated. In addition to the division of real estate, investment portfolios, personal property and debts, divorces now often involve custody of and access to the pets.

Many consider their pets an integral part of the family. During a divorce, it can be tough to decide who will keep the cat, dog or other family animal. If you and your spouse cannot agree on who gets to keep Fido or Fifi, here are a few of the guidelines that govern placement of a pet when a divorce occurs.

The division of pets during a divorce

Historically, courts have treated animals as personal property in a divorce. Today, however, more and more courts are treating pets as members of the family instead of personal property – taking into account the best interests of the animal.

In fact, courts have started awarding custody, visitation and support payments to pet owners in divorces where fights over family pets can be very acrimonious. A recent study indicated pet-custody cases are on the rise (with a 27 percent increase from 2009 to 2014) and a corresponding increase in the number of judges who are finding pets an asset in divorce proceedings.

The best interests of the pets

What this means is that people who are interested in keeping their pets following a divorce need to prove to the court that the pet’s best interests rest with them. This includes demonstrating that:

  • The owner is emotionally invested in the pet
  • The owner’s house or living quarters has plenty of recreational space for the pet to live and play
  • The owner is diligent in caring for the pet through regular visits to a nearby veterinarian

By demonstrating that all of these resources are at their disposal, the owner has a stronger chance of retaining custody of their pet following a divorce.

Divorce is complicated regardless of the circumstances and nobody wants to part with their pet. For people who are going through a divorce, especially one involving pets, consider contacting an experienced divorce attorney for guidance. Navigating divorce court can be a challenge on your own and a legal advisor can make the process easier.