Divorce affects every member of a family, including those who aren’t even human. Pets or companion animals have no say over what occurs in a divorce, unlike children. In fact, the New York family courts treat companion animals as personal property rather than part of the family.
Generally, that means the judge will assign the animal to one spouse as part of the property division process. They will consider the animal’s financial value — not its emotional value to the family. The court will likely not even consider the specific needs of the animal in the process.
Thankfully, that outdated approach could soon change. If the governor signs a bill into law that recently passed both chambers of the legislature, that could change.
How could the New York courts change their approach to pets?
If the governor does sign a recently passed bill into law, judges presiding over divorces will have to take a different approach to animals that are marital property and not the separate property of one spouse. Much like with children, they will have to consider the animal’s best interests.
That might mean placing it with the spouse who is home more frequently if the animal is a dog who needs frequent interactions and exercise. It might also mean looking at income and living situations to decide what would benefit the animal more.
For now, couples will have to endure the courts treating their pets like property or find a way to negotiate a settlement outside of Court. Understanding the rules that apply to property division in a New York divorce will make it easier for you to ask for the terms that are most important to you, like the retention of a pet.