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What Happens to Four-Legged Friends When You Get Divorced?

Whether or not you have human children, many people consider their furry friends part of the family. So, it stands to reason that if you and your spouse are considering divorce, the issue of who gets Fido or Fluffy may loom large at the negotiation table.

A New York case is shining some new light on the issue. In the past, pets were considered “personal property” in New York and were subject to equitable distribution standards. This put dogs and cats in the category of furniture, real estate and 401k accounts. Although pets are often as loved as children in some families, court systems – already overburdened with child custody issues – had never taken on pet custody as an issue to be decided by the courts.

Until now. A law passed last year in New York requiring courts to consider the “best for all concerned” when it comes to deciding the custody of animals. Interestingly enough, child custody is determined in New York, as well as New Jersey, based on the “best interests of the child” standards.

When deciding who should get a pet following a divorce, a judge will consider:

  • Who adopted the pet?
  • Who cared for the pet and how the pet was cared for previously?
  • Can the parties agree to visitation?

Other issues that can arise might even be joint custody, who pays for veterinary care and grooming, etc. While there is no college education to pay for, obviously, animal training and even insurance, could be issues divorcing couples should discuss.

While New Jersey doesn’t have any particular laws associated with pet custody, other than the aforementioned personal property issue, all topics are worth raising during a divorce dispute. Other states, including New York as described, have put some radical guidelines into place in individual cases. In Missouri, for example, there is a precedent of a parenting plan being drawn up for pets.

If you are considering divorce, or have questions about custody issues, contact the law firm of Graziano & Flynn for sound, compassionate legal advice.

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