Dogs and other pets have always had a cherished place in the family, but the role of our furry friends has grown to the point where they have full membership. This means that more couples who divorce are likely have a dispute over who gets possession of Fido or Fluffy. This is borne out by coverage in the media as well as data provided by legal professionals.

The courts and legislatures around the country now recognized this reality with California Governor Gerry Brown being a recent example of signing a pet custody bill into law. Rather than treating pets as property to be divided in a way similar to dishes or other assets, these new laws look at pets as a custody issue.

Some may be surprised, but New York is ahead of the curve on this because the courts have been forced to decide a number of cases involving pets. This has led to a set of criteria.

Pet custody criteria

Rather than a straight custody dispute to be resolved, the courts look to apply a “best for all concerned” standard. This includes considering the following:

  • How the pet came into the family
  • Who cared for the pet during the marriage
  • How a plan would look for sharing time with the animal

Some theorize that a reason for this is that couples with no children will places an emphasized attachment on the pets, but others see countless other explanations. Whatever the reason, some judges have even resorted to bringing a dog into court to determine the relationship between Fido and its two humans, while other examples include actual studies of the dog’s relationship to its humans.

Working with an attorney can make sense

Emotional ties to our pets are rewarding, particularly in times of turmoil. Pet owners should have a frank discussion of the role their charges play in their lives. Ideally, it should be what is best for the care of the animal, but sometimes an attorney has to assert the rights of the client to ensure that this is so.