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Pet ownership in a divorce

New York couples who are seeking a divorce may be interested in an article discussing how the legal system handles custody of pets when a marriage ends. Judges look at a few factors to make their decision on which spouse will be better suited for custody.

Pets are regarded as personal property under the law, regardless of any emotional connection that a spouse may have. Therefore, they are subject to the normal property division that accompanies any divorce. Judges will examine the situation and decide which spouse would be better able to care for the pet. If a spouse can provide evidence that they are the primary caretaker, whether it is feeding and walking the pet or taking it to the vet, this will weigh in their favor. If that spouse is getting custody of the children, then a judge may be more likely to award it to them in order to keep the family pet together with the kids.

In some situations, the judge will not have to make a ruling on the matter of pet custody. When a spouse owned a pet prior to getting married, the pet does not count as marital property. Rather, it belongs to its original owner after the divorce. When the couple has a prenuptial agreement that deals with pet ownership, this will also avoid a judge having to make a decision. Likewise, postnuptial agreements can handle custody of the pet as well.

There are many issues that are likely to be points of contention between divorcing spouses beyond pet ownership. An attorney may be able to help sort through these issues in a contested divorce and represent the client during the proceedings if a negotiated settlement cannot be reached.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?", Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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