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You’re Getting a Divorce…Who Gets the Dog? The Dog May Decide. I’ll Explain.


Who gets possession of the family pet in a New York divorce is a thing. Clients are passionate about their pets. I know, I have litigated this issue. In years past, lawyers and the courts were left to resolve this issue without much direction. That changed in early 2021 when the New York State Legislature amended New York’s Domestic Relations Law. Courts are now required to consider “the best interest of a companion animal” when awarding possession in a divorce or separation proceeding. A companion animal is defined as a dog, cat, or any other “domesticated animal.” Farm animals are excluded from this definition. If the “best interest” standard sounds familiar, that is because “best interest” is the standard in New York when determining child custody. We will leave any comparisons for another day.

Although Still Considered Property, Emotions of The Animal May Guide The Decision

Prior to this recent law, companion animals in a New York divorce were treated similarly to any other item of personal property, like a car, appliance, or furniture. Although still treated as property, lawyers and judges must now consider the emotional well-being of the animal, when addressing possession of the family pet. Numerous studies have shown dogs have a wide range of emotions including anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust. Similarly, studies have shown cats have emotions, which include happiness, sadness, fear, relief, frustration, and grief. In a hotly contested pet possession battle, one must now consider retaining an expert, such as an animal trainer, psychologist, or behaviorist to conduct an evaluation of the animal and be prepared to testify, if an agreement cannot be reached and the case goes to trial. And yes, the cost will likely be significant. And yes, the animal may have a say, based on its emotions, in who will get possession.

Other Factors to Consider

There are numerous other factors, which may be relevant in determining the best interest of the family pet, including:

  • Who is the primary caretaker
  • Who makes sure the pet is feed
  • Who takes the pet for a walk
  • Who cleans up after the pet
  • Who cares for the pet when sick
  • Who takes the pet to the Vet
  • Who is the pet most happy to see
  • Who makes sure the pet is groomed
  • Who is willing to pay for the costs of the pet
  • With whom will the children primarily reside, if there is a bond with the pet.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it gives examples of things to consider, if ever faced with the issue of who will get possession of the family pet in your New York divorce.

Be Creative In Your Attempt to Reach An Agreement

It is always better, and certainly less expensive, if the parties can resolve possession of the family pet as part of an agreement, rather than having the court decide after what could be a lengthy and costly trial. In one case, we resolved the issue by having one party keep the purebred female dog, while the other agreed to take the entire litter after the dog mated with another purebred. In another case, we reached a more conventional agreement where the parties agreed to a 50/50 time-share arrangement, alternating possession of the dog on a monthly basis. In yet another case, the family dog followed the children. On a week-to-week basis, where the children went, so did the dog. You get the idea. You are only limited by your imagination and creativity.

You know your pet best. You and your lawyer must work together to determine whether this will be a “winner take all” issue or, if it is more advisable to come up with a plan or arrangement that everyone can live with, including the dog, cat, or other family pet.

We Will Help You Through the Difficult Times You Face During Divorce

When you hire The Rossi Law Firm, Michael Anthony Rossi will personally handle your case. Michael is nationally recognized and has consistently received the highest possible rating for both legal ability and ethical standards. With over four decades of experience handling complex divorce and custody cases, our Buffalo divorce team understands the emotional and financial challenges individuals experience when facing the uncertainty of divorce. We will be there for you when you need the guidance and direction to get you through the difficult times. If you are ready to move forward with divorce, call Michael Anthony Rossi at The Rossi Law Firm at 716-854-5555. “It may be the most important call you will ever make!” – Michael Anthony Rossi