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Pet custody may heat up divorce disagreements

The Humane Society of the United States reports that American households home roughly 179 million dogs and cats. Increasingly, it appears that these beloved pets are regarded as more than just animals, and in many instances they may even be considered family. New York couples who are ready to divorce might be concerned about the fate of their beloved pets, as animal custody is typically not handled by divorce court.

Pets are typically divided as most other assets -- as property. However, in 2013, a divorcing lesbian couple were unable to decide pet custody on their own and proceeded to court. The judge overseeing the case treated the custody disagreement much like a child custody disagreement by deciding what would be best for everyone involved.

One partner had purchased a puppy and given it to her spouse as a gift. Afterward, she continued to support the animal financially. Her spouse thought that the dog should stay with her since she was the original owner.

While having a pet ownership disagreement treated more like a custody issue and less like an argument over assets is not entirely common, that 2013 case may have set a precedent for similar disputes. Although some couples choose to address pet custody issues before marriage in a prenuptial agreement, those who haven’t may have to deal with this issue during a divorce. For some New York couples, it may be possible to work out an agreement concerning the pet between themselves. This may include a custody schedule or who is financially responsible for vet bills or food. If this is not possible, it may be necessary for the two individuals to proceed to court, although ultimately the pet’s fate will be in the hands of a judge.

Source:, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

Source:, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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