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The rules about pets in New York divorces have changed

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2024 | Property And Asset Division

Certain issues that commonly come up during divorce are likely to cause conflict. Any matters that trigger people’s emotions have the potential to cause intractable disputes. Many divorcing couples find that their pets become a hot-button issue during their divorces.

Pets are a valuable part of many modern families, which means that they can be a challenging issue to address in a New York divorce. Both spouses may want to live with the animal after the divorce if possible. They may end up litigating over pet ownership in some cases.

Pets feel like more than property

Not that long ago, the New York approach to companion animals was relatively straightforward. Unless divorcing spouses set their own terms, the courts treated any household pets as property. Judges assigned them a value and allocated them to one spouse or the other.

However, a recent adjustment to New York’s property division statutes has potentially changed how the courts handle pets during divorce. The pet’s best interests now matter. Judges making property division determinations in New York typically need to consider multiple key factors before settling any disagreements between the spouses.

Top considerations include the economic circumstances of the spouses, their custody arrangements and their contributions to the household during the marriage. The recent changes to property division statutes now include a requirement for a judge to consider the best interests of a companion animal included in the inventory of marital assets.

The lifestyle and degree of economic support that either spouse can provide for a pet may influence what a judge ultimately decides to do with the animal. While judges are still unlikely to put together a shared pet custody order, they may think about the lifestyle that the pet may have after the divorce when deciding who keeps the animal.

In families where shared arrangements might be preferable, spouses may need to reach a mutual agreement about property division. Otherwise, they need to develop their trial strategy based on the rules that apply to judges making asset division determinations.

Understanding the rules that apply in a New York divorce can help people better prepare for their biggest concerns. Putting a pet’s needs first may require that divorcing spouses think carefully about their circumstances and abilities. Those who think that retaining their pet should be a priority may need to plan carefully, and to seek legal guidance, to maximize their chances of success.