Who Keeps the Pets in a Divorce?

For many of us, our pets aren’t like family, they are family. So, the idea of possibly never seeing them again is heartbreaking. However, that is the sad reality that many people have had to face following a divorce. When spouses agree to part ways, deciding who gets the dogs or cats is often an overlooked point of contention until it isn’t. Then things can get messy. It’s one thing to divide up assets, but a living, breathing member of the family is not something that can just be divvyed up evenly between two people who probably never want to see each other again. Unfortunately, laws concerning pet custody are few and far between. Despite that fact, the law still plays a part in how pet custody is decided in a divorce.

How Is Pet Custody Decided?

The law often considers pets property when it comes to divorce. This can lead to the spouse who purchased the pet (or paid any adoption fees related to the pet) being awarded custody. While the law in many states treats pets as property, that’s not the case in every state. In certain states, there are laws in place to handle pet custody disputes.

For instance, in 2018, New York, which used to treat pets as property during a divorce, released new guidelines regarding how pet custody disputes are to be handled. The guidelines allow courts to consider factors other than who bought a pet when making a custody decision. A few of the factors courts can now consider include:

  • How was the pet acquired?
  • Did both spouses take care of the pet during the marriage? If not, who was more responsible for caring for the pet?
  • If there’s more than one pet, would keeping the pets together or splitting them up be best for all concerned?
  • Did the spouses come up with their own custody agreement?
  • Are there children involved? If so, do they have a close relationship with the pets, and who has primary custody of the children?

Tips to Avoid a Pet Custody Battle

Even if there are laws in place to decide pet custody, spouses should first try to figure out who keeps the pets on their own. Avoiding a messy custody battle is always the best option for everyone involved, including the pets. Pet custody disputes can be stressful and costly, and in some cases, they can lead to verbal and physical altercations. There’s no reason it should ever come to that. Whether spouses decide to go the legal route, or they leave the courts out of it and try to figure it out themselves, here a few tips to avoid a messy pet custody dispute:

  • If you both are seeking full custody, try to figure out whether the pets would have a significantly better living situation with one person or the other. If that’s the case, it may be best for the pets if that person gets custody. In such a situation, you may be able to negotiate visitation rights as well for the person who doesn’t have custody.
  • If you can’t decide who should have sole custody, attempt to negotiate shared custody.
  • Make sure that whether you decide on a full custody agreement or a shared custody agreement, that your contract is a physical/digital document and includes all the details you agreed upon. Also, even though this is between you and your spouse, it is probably a good idea if you have your attorneys look over the contract before you sign it/agree to it.
  • You should include agreements about everything pertaining to your pets in the contract, such as a custody schedule, travel restrictions, and who is allowed to make medical decisions regarding the pets.
  • The agreement should also include information about how to handle disagreements, like who handles a pet’s large medical expenses. A good way to decide this is through mediation or having a group of family members or friends (approved by both of you) make the decision.

Have Questions About a Custody Dispute? Contact Us Now!

At Levi Divorce & Family Law Attorneys, we understand how difficult it can be to hold on to the parts of your life you love and escape situations that are unhealthy for you at the same time. Unfortunately, losing a few good parts of your life because of a divorce is sometimes unavoidable. However, your relationship with your pets doesn’t have to be one of things you lose. In many cases, gaining full or partial custody of your pets is possible, even if it seems like it’s not. Our legal team has the experience, knowledge, and skills to help you get the divorce you need without losing the pets you love. For more information about our firm and how we can help you, check out what our clients had to say about us in their reviews.

To set up a free consultation, fill out our online contact form or call us at (718) 215-0121. We are available to take your call 24/7. Se habla español!