Pet Custody After Divorce

Pet custody is not a new topic in divorce litigation, but there is a new New York law for the first time providing guidance to judges for the determination of this clearly sensitive and emotional issue for divorcing parties.

On October 25, 2021 Governor Hochul signed a new law effective immediately that requires the divorce courts to use the same legal factors and concepts in child custody cases for pet custody cases.  While courts have had to decide this issue before, there was no prior legislative guidance and each judge created their own analysis and determination.

Will there be a new industry of experts who will write reports as to which spouse is more involved, which spouse purchased the pet, which person takes the pet to the vet and which person arranges care if the owners are out of town?  Will there be pet behavior experts to "interpret" the pet's actions and how, if at all, it relates to a custody determination?

More often then not, my past experience has been that the two people reach an agreement as the cost of litigation for many people becomes a factor.  In some cases, if there are two pets then the owners can each have one but that of course does not help with the fact that the pets like to be together or that one may be older and have health issues and the other is very young.  Judges can consider the size of a person's home and yard in conjunction with the needs of the pet.  Big dogs may need a big yard.  Some pets require constant attention and companionship while others are very independent.  One parent may work long hours or not be able to come home to follow the pet's feeding and walking schedule to avoid accidents.

I did have a case where the owners agreed to alternate weeks with their dog.  However, even after settlement I received phone calls that one parent was not complying with the agreement.

I suspect, as is true with custody cases, that each case will be determined based on the unique facts of the situation.