Historically, the courts have treated pets as chattel or property. While families have an obvious emotional connection to their pets, the law views them as personal property, similar to a piece of furniture. As a result, many courts will distribute the property (pet) to one party or another. In extreme cases when an agreement cannot be reached, the court will direct that the pet be sold and the money divided between parties.
The Future of Pets in Divorce
Recent cases indicate that the treatment of pets in divorce cases is shifting, and the courts have started to look at the issue differently. In a relatively recent case, a Manhattan judge determined that the family dog was not the same as every other piece of property, and he ruled on what should happen to the dog and where the dog should reside based upon the best interests of everyone concerned.
Even more recently in Nassau County, a judge determined that the dog would split time in two-week increments between the two parties to the divorce action. Despite the fact that the wife claimed that the dog was an “emotional support animal,” the judge felt that her claim, which was made during the course of litigation, was a strategy to be awarded sole possession of the dog.
Notably, many courts, which deal with important child custody issues on a daily basis, feel that judicial resources are not wisely spent on pet visitation/custody issues.
The law is evolving, but each judge is going to have a different take on where a pet falls on the spectrum between property and children. Another important consideration for judges is how the loss of a pet may impact the children involved in the divorce case. This impact may also influence decisions about which party should have possession.
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