Can I Have Custody of My Pets?

When a couple decides to divorce or separate, focus often centers on asset allocation and child custody. However, as much-loved members of the family, pets may also be a focus of the divorce, and where Fido or Felix lives can become a source of contention. Levi Divorce & Family Law Attorneys has the experience to guide you through the process of formalizing a pet custody agreement.

Increasing Need for Pet Custody Lawyers

Pet custody disputes have increased in recent years, according to an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey. The rise in disputes was most significant among childless couples, where they may have viewed their pets similarly to children. However, the custody fights cited in the study weren’t limited to married couples, but also extended to those living together and dating.

Pets today are far more than possessions. Almost 67% of U.S. households have at least one pet, and how much we care for them is evident in how much we spend – about $99 billion last year in the United States alone.

To sway how courts view pets, the Animal League Defense Fund has filed amicus curiae briefs arguing that pets’ needs should be considered. This surge in pet custody disputes is one reason New York judges were given new pet custody guidelines in 2018.

How Is Pet Custody Determined?

New York historically considered pets simply as property, much like a dining room table. That is no longer the case. While pets are not viewed as children, New York has evolved how it views our furry friends.

When determining pet custody, courts now examine several criteria:

  • How the pet came into the family.
  • How the pet receives primary care.
  • How the parties spend time with the pet after separating.
  • How pet custody affects children, if applicable.

Judges use a “best for all” standard when awarding pet custody. If one parent receives primary custody of the children, that parent often is awarded custody of the pet.

Dog Ownership Laws in New York

In a pet custody agreement, one person will be listed as the owner for licensing purposes. Dogs 4 months and older must be registered and licensed in New York state. The designated owner will ensure that the dog is licensed and current on their vaccines.

Dogs must wear their license tags on their collars when in public. While New York has no laws limiting the number of pets you can own, your city or county may have regulations on numbers, licensing, leashing and other restrictions and requirements. No matter who holds the dog’s license, both exes must obey their own city’s animal regulations when the dog is in their custody.

New York has animal protection laws, some related specifically to companion animals. Companion animals generally mean a dog or cat but can include other domesticated animals living inside or near the home. If you’re considering a pet custody agreement, make sure to review these laws first.

Sharing Pet Custody with an Ex

Former couples can share custody of their pets. One person can be the primary caregiver. Equal split custody is another option. When you choose to share custody, the pet’s welfare should be a priority. You and your ex should feed your beloved pet the same diet and follow the same feeding, walking and bedtime schedules. Consistency is important. Like expenses with children, you will need an agreement on how veterinary bills and other financial obligations are shared.

Next Steps

If you are divorcing or ending a relationship, Levi Divorce & Family Law Attorneys can help protect your rights and your pet.

To schedule a consultation, contact us online or via phone at (718) 215-0121.