Pets in Divorce: Who Gets Fido?

By Michael DiFalco

Emotions often run high in divorces. After all, they involve two individuals untangling their lives from one another. The things acquired together and experiences shared can be painful to separate from, which can lead to emotionally charged fights over who gets the home, where the children should live, and who gets possession of mementos. 

Pets can also become a flashpoint in a divorce and lead to bitter arguments in and out of court. Knowing how a court will handle disputes over your pet’s ownership is essential for developing realistic expectations of what a court will do in your case. It can also help you advance compelling arguments if you want to keep the family pet.

New York Divides Marital Assets Equitably

New York is an equitable distribution state, rather than a community property state. The significance of this distinction is felt when the court divides marital property and assets of you and your ex-spouse. In an equitable distribution state, the court must divide marital property in a way that is fair to you and your ex.

This is not necessarily a 50/50 division of all assets that occurs in community property states. An equitable diffusion also allows the court to consider how you and your ex came to acquire certain property and what care each of you has taken to maintain it, among other factors.

Your Dog Is Considered Property in a Divorce

No matter how much you care for your pet or consider them to be a part of your family, in the eyes of the law, your beloved animal is property. Thus, your pet is subject to equitable division by the court. 

But this presents some problems. Unlike a child, a court will not enter a parenting plan to govern visitation with your pet. And unlike cases with bank accounts or vehicles, the court cannot divide your pet.

The court must, then, award possession of your pets to either you or your ex. In deciding who gets the pet, the court may consider the following:

  • If you acquired the pet before you and your spouse married
  • Who has primarily cared for the pet during the marriage
  • Whether the pet is considered a “companion animal” or “service animal”
  • The parent your child will primarily reside with if they are bonded with the pet
  • Your ability to provide a suitable place for the pet following the divorce

Like other property division orders, an order that gives your ex possession of your pets will be difficult to appeal or reverse. To do so, you would have to show that the court made an unreasonable decision.

The Good News Is You and Your Ex Can Control Who Gets Your Pet

Just because your pet is considered marital property does not mean you have no control over who your pet lives with following a divorce. You and your ex can decide who gets your animal using a property division agreement. And while a court does not enter pet visitation orders, nothing would stop you and your ex from coming up with such an arrangement.

Can a New York divorce lawyer help me keep my pets?

If you have pets and want to keep them following your divorce, working with an experienced Garden City, New York divorce lawyer from Aiello & DiFalco can help your situation. Your lawyer will take the time to understand your entire marital estate and can help negotiate an agreement with your ex so that you keep your pet.

If no agreement is possible, your lawyer will highlight the attachment you have to your pet, the care you have provided for them in the past, and your ability to continue caring for them after the divorce. 

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.