The courts have recently begun to see a sharp increase in the number of divorcing couples who have turned to judges to resolve disputes over pet custody in New York. In December 2013, the New York Supreme Court considered a landmark pet custody case in Travis v. Martin. In that case, Manhattan-based matrimonial judge Matthew Cooper was asked to adjudicate the dispute of two women who were unable to agree on who would get “custody” of the family dog after they divorced.

In an unprecedented action by a New York matrimonial judge, Judge Cooper agreed to devote one day of the court’s time and resources to conduct a hearing in order to resolve the pet custody in New York issue. Judge Cooper’s decision broke from previous actions by acknowledging that pets enjoy a cherished place in families and ought to be considered as something more than mere property.

Previously, New York, like most other states, treated pets as “chattel” that were worth only the equivalent of their market value. Judge Cooper’s alternative approach in the Travis case rejected the view that pets are mere property, but at the same time declined to go so far as to conclude that pets should be treated like children in a custody dispute, where courts seek to determine what arrangements are in the “best interests” of the child.

In an attempt to strike a balance between two extreme approaches, Judge Cooper applied a standard of what was in the best interests of all involved. Judge Cooper invited the parties to offer evidence regarding which spouse cared for the dog on a daily basis and other matters bearing on the relationship between the pet and the respective spouses. The court limited the duration of the hearing to one day and refused to entertain any claims for joint custody.

Pet Prenuptial Agreements

In order to protect themselves and their pets in the future, married and unmarried pet owners should consider what will happen if their relationship ends during the lifetime of their pets. Agreeing on a plan beforehand and committing it to writing is critical to avoid future conflicts. Couples might think that they can rely on cooperation and custody sharing. A New York divorce lawyer can help plan this agreement.

However, the courts generally will not become involved in enforcing shared custody agreements like they do with child custody. If a dispute were to arise over the possession of a pet, police officers and judges are very likely to resolve the issue with a basic property analysis, awarding the pet to the person who purchased the animal.

If you have been involved in a pet custody in New York dispute, contact an experienced New York divorce lawyer today at Alatsas Law Firm The attorneys at Alatsas Law Firm have the skill and experience to aggressively pursue your claim and to ensure that you are fully compensated for your losses. Contact the skilled attorneys at Alatsas Law Firm today, at (718)-233-2903.

Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection
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