Hot diggity dog (or cat)!! The legal recognition of a pet as a beloved and significant part of the family has reached the divorce courts and is codified in the New York Domestic Relations Law. As a result, tails are a-waggin! While animals are still considered property, albeit one with sentimental value, the courts are now compelled to adjudicate ownership in accordance with a best interestesque standard. This seminal consideration is one of many in the last several years, which affords protection to the family pet, as well as recognition of the importance of animals in our lives. It further acknowledges the strong correlation between domestic violence and animal cruelty, often seen in divorce actions.
While the initial inquiry during a divorce is whether the pet is separate or marital property, a gift or separate property that has been co-mingled in some manner, the court will also consider more humane factors, including but not limited to:
Is the party wanting the pet:
1. financially able to care for it?
2. residing in a place where pets are permitted?
3. have a work schedule conducive to caring for the pet?
4. have there been any allegations of abuse and/or neglect (in this regard there are both criminal and Family Court options available)?
In addition to the foregoing, an important consideration when children are involved is which party does or will have residential custody. As many realize, divorce can be extraordinarily hard on the children, and the loss of a pet will likely only compound an already difficult situation.
Like most divorces, it is always preferable for litigants to chart their own destiny/settlement. In this regard, some litigants choose to share ownership and expenses associated with the pet.
While the law is evolving regarding the disposition of pets during a divorce, it is not given the attention that most would hope. Thus, it is critical that the parties not only consider what is best for themselves and their children, they must also remember that their pet is a living breathing thing that needs to be reasonably and humanely addressed during a divorce.