Some pet owners treat animals almost as if they are children. The law in New York, however, does not. If you love your pet, and if you are planning or anticipating a divorce in the Rochester area, you and your pet will need to be represented by a Rochester divorce attorney.

Marriage statistics still indicate that about fifty percent of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. The figures also tell us that about sixty-two percent of the households in the U.S. own one or more pets.

Thus, many or most of the people who are seeking a divorce are also the owners of pets. A dispute regarding the ownership or “custody” of a family pet can sometimes become the central issue in a divorce.

Pet-Related Divorce Disputes Are Common

Over 179 million pets belong to over 70 million households in the U.S. Pet owners in this nation spend over $40 billion annually on their pets. Growing numbers of pets and pet owners, with ever more dollars being spent on pets, means more battles over pets in divorce proceedings.

Pet-related divorce disputes can sometimes actually be about a separate or underlying issue. For example, someone who takes a former spouse to court repeatedly regarding a family pet may merely be using the animal to control, aggravate, or harass the other ex-spouse.

And oftentimes, the concern for a pet’s safety is well-founded. According to the ASPCA, more than seven in ten pet owners who were surveyed while they were residing in domestic violence shelters said that their pet was harmed, threatened, or killed by an abusive partner or spouse.

Can a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement Protect Your Pet?

The surest method of protecting your pet in the event of a divorce is by establishing a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that specifies which partner will retain the pet’s ownership and how the costs will be handled for the pet’s veterinary treatment and other expenses after a divorce.

Having your pets’ destinies spelled out in advance and in writing in a binding legal document is the best way to avoid disputes over a family’s pets if a marriage ends in divorce. A Rochester family law attorney can help you draft a binding prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

Common law has always considered pets private property. Historically, when a divorce involved a pet, the court treated the pet as property – legally the same as a house or a piece of furniture. New York’s courts have only started changing that approach in the last two decades.

How Are Pets Dealt With in New York Divorces?

Disputes over pets are not handled like child custody disputes, which apply a “best interests of the child” standard. Instead, in a dispute over a pet, the pet legally falls somewhere between personal property and a real child, and a “best interests of all concerned” standard is used.

The courts in New York have consistently held that the custody of a family’s pet will not be based on the same standard as child custody. When determining the custody of a family pet in a divorce case, a New York judge will seek the answers to these questions:

  1. How was the pet acquired?
  2. How was the pet cared for during the marriage?
  3. Do one or more children have an emotional attachment to the pet?
  4. Which spouse’s lifestyle is the best fit with the obligations of pet ownership?
  5. Will the ex-spouses arrange for visitations with the pet after the divorce?

You May Need Evidence to Help You Keep Your Pet

The judge may ask about who purchases pet food, who bathes and feeds the pet, and who carries the animal to the vet. If you’re the spouse responsible for that, compile evidence that proves it. Save your receipts for pet food with your signature, and get a statement from the veterinarian.

When an animal becomes a genuine family pet, it is often best for everyone who is involved if the pet stays with the divorcing couple’s child or children after a divorce. In situations where a child’s legal custody is shared by both parents, the pet can probably also be jointly shared.

If one divorcing spouse travels for work or works lengthy hours, and if the other spouse works at home or maintains a relatively predictable everyday routine, the court may presume that the latter spouse’s lifestyle is probably more conducive to providing the pet with a proper home.

After the Divorce

If a pet is awarded to only one ex-spouse, that spouse may decide if the other ex-spouse may have visitations with the animal, and any agreement regarding the animal that is made by the divorced spouses is private. The court will not require, establish, or enforce a visitation schedule.

If you own a pet prior to your marriage, you will most likely be able to keep the pet in a divorce. However, each case is unique, so divorcing pet owners in the Rochester area must be represented by a New York divorce attorney who handles a variety of divorce-related legal issues.

If the divorcing spouses have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that is valid in New York, a court will enforce that agreement. Without such a document, if the divorcing partners can reach their own agreement regarding a pet, a judge will almost always accept that agreement.

If You Must Fight for Your Pet

People who divorce usually have a lot of disagreements, and that’s why they get divorced. But if spouses who are divorcing can agree on questions like child custody, spousal support, child support, and pet ownership, they can save money, time, and avoid quite a lot of aggravation.

Just because you are divorcing does not mean that you should have to worry about your pet’s future or well-being. Your love for your pet is not trivial or silly, so if you must fight for your pet, you must have a divorce lawyer who completely understands your anxieties and feelings.

If you’re a pet owner, and if you are seeking a divorce in the Rochester area, you and your pet will need to be aggressively and effectively represented by a Rochester divorce attorney who understands. After all, a spouse may choose to divorce you, but the love of a good pet is for life.