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Who Gets the Family Pet in a Divorce?

Effective this past October, New York State passed a law related to custody of pets in divorce. Specifically, this law relates to what are called Companion Animals. Previously, pets were looked at as property—they were distributed based on title and ownership. However, since many family pets do not have ownership documents, dividing them in a divorce was problematic. Often, courts gave pet custody to whichever parent had physical custody of the children on the presumption that the pets were really acquired for the children, but too often childless or older couples ran into pet disputes with no easy resolution. Alaska has had a pet custody statute since 2017 and now New York has caught up.

The New York Domestic Relations law now requires the court to consider the best interest of the companion animals in distributing them in a divorce. What that will look like will evolve over the next few years, as animals cannot speak for themselves, and determining a pet’s best interest is vastly different from that of a child. What it does tell us, however, is that courts will take the issue of ownership of pets much more seriously than they have in the past.

For well over two decades, Barbara has been representing parents, spouses and other parties from Long Island to the Capital Region, as well as clients nationally and internationally, in a wide range of family and matrimonial matters. 

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