Divorcing? Who gets custody and visitation of the dog?

New York City residents often treat their dogs as dearly loved family members. So when divorce rears its ugly head, the custody of Fido must be addressed.

Devoted dog owners are often shocked to learn that, in the eyes of the law, dogs are mere property, subject to the same laws that come into play when deciding who gets the Keurig coffeemaker or the Warhol print.

Once the decision has been made to divorce, when there is a beloved pet involved, it behooves both parties to try to reach a consensus regarding who will get custody and visitation of the canine.

As New York is not a community property state, if the issue can't be resolved between the divorcing spouses, a judge will have to make a determination as to whether the dog was separate property or marital property. Circumstances that could wind up with the courts determining the dog is separate property include one spouse having owned him prior to the marriage or who received him as a gift during the marriage.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a survey a few years ago of divorce attorneys across the country and learned that there is an uptick of so-called pet custody cases wending their way through divorce and family courts when couples are unable to reach agreement on the animal's living arrangements post-divorce.

As a result, some judges are beginning to factor in some pertinent elements when making their decision about the custody of the family pet. Some of those considerations may include the following:

-- Which party has the financial means to best care for the pet during its lifetime, including vet bills and related expenses?

-- What are the work schedules and lifestyles of the two parties? Will the dog wind up alone for unacceptably long periods of time?

-- Has either party ever been abusive or neglectful toward the pet?

-- Will the dog have enough space to play and exercise in a new environment?

-- Which parent will have the custody of the children for the majority of the time?

If you have questions related to the custody of a beloved pet, make sure you share them with your legal representative so they can be hashed out during negotiations.

Source: Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?" Nancy Kay, Aug. 21, 2014

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