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Who gets the family pet in a divorce?

Who Gets the Family Pet in a Divorce?

Going through a divorce is never easy. It’s a time of emotional turmoil, financial uncertainty, and difficult decisions. One of the most heart-wrenching issues that can arise during a divorce is determining who gets custody of the beloved family pet. At Spodek Law Group, we understand how important your furry friends are to you. They’re not just animals – they’re cherished members of the family.As experienced NYC divorce attorneys, we’ve helped countless clients navigate the complexities of pet custody disputes. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about pet custody in divorce cases. We’ll explain the current legal landscape, discuss emerging trends in pet custody law, and provide practical advice to help you protect your relationship with your pet during and after divorce.

The Legal Status of Pets in Divorce Cases

When it comes to pets and divorce, the law is still catching up to how most people view their animal companions. Legally speaking, pets are considered personal property in divorce proceedings. This means they are typically treated the same way as furniture, vehicles, or other material possessions when it comes to property division.However, we know that for most pet owners, Fido or Fluffy is so much more than just property. They’re loyal companions who provide emotional support, unconditional love, and a sense of family. At Spodek Law Group, we recognize the deep bonds between humans and their pets. We fight hard to ensure our clients’ relationships with their beloved animals are protected during divorce.

Pets as Property: The Traditional Legal View

Traditionally, the law has viewed pets as personal property to be divided like any other asset in a divorce. Factors considered may include:

  • Who purchased or adopted the pet
  • Whose name is on registration/ownership documents
  • Who has been the primary caretaker
  • Who has paid for food, vet bills, etc.

Under this property-based approach, pets are typically awarded to one spouse or the other. There is no consideration of shared custody or visitation rights as there would be with children.

Emerging Trends: The “Best Interests of the Pet” Standard

In recent years, some courts have begun to recognize that the traditional property approach doesn’t align with how most people view their pets. A small but growing number of judges are starting to consider the best interests of the pet when making custody determinations.Factors that may be considered under this approach include:

  • Which owner the pet is more bonded to
  • Who has been the primary caretaker
  • Who can provide the best home environment
  • The pet’s established routine and familiarity
  • Each owner’s ability to care for the pet financially and physically

While not yet widely adopted, this “best interests” standard is gaining traction, especially in cases involving dogs. As your attorneys, we stay on top of emerging legal trends like this to provide you with the strongest possible representation.

Shared Custody and Visitation Arrangements

In some cases, divorcing couples are able to work out shared custody or visitation arrangements for their pets. This can be done through negotiation and included as part of the divorce settlement. While courts generally won’t order shared pet custody, they will often honor such agreements if the couple comes to terms on their own.Some examples of pet custody arrangements we’ve helped clients negotiate include:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • Alternating weeks or months with each owner
  • One owner has primary custody with the other getting regular visitation
  • Shared custody during the week with alternating weekends
  • One owner keeps the pet but allows liberal visitation for the other

The key is finding an arrangement that works for both parties while prioritizing the wellbeing of the pet. As your attorneys, we can help you explore creative solutions and negotiate fair terms.

Factors Considered in Pet Custody Cases

When it comes to determining who gets the family pet in a divorce, courts will typically consider a variety of factors. While pets are still legally considered property in most jurisdictions, judges are increasingly taking a more nuanced approach that considers the animal’s wellbeing and bond with each owner.At Spodek Law Group, we have extensive experience helping clients make strong cases for pet custody. Here are some of the key factors we focus on when advocating for our clients:

1. Primary Caretaker

One of the most important considerations is who has been the pet’s primary caretaker. Courts will look at things like:

  • Who feeds the pet and takes it for walks
  • Who takes the pet to vet appointments
  • Who handles grooming and other care needs
  • Who spends the most time with the pet

If you’ve been the one primarily responsible for your pet’s day-to-day care, we’ll make sure the court understands the strong bond you’ve developed through that caregiving role.

2. Financial Ability to Care for the Pet

The court will also consider each spouse’s ability to financially provide for the pet going forward. This includes things like:

  • Ability to pay for food, supplies, and routine veterinary care
  • Financial capacity to handle any ongoing health issues or emergencies
  • Having a suitable living situation for the pet (e.g. a home with a yard for a dog)

We’ll help present evidence of your financial stability and preparedness to continue caring for your pet’s needs.

3. Living Situation

The pet’s living environment is another key factor. The court may look at:

  • Whether you have a house with a yard vs. an apartment
  • If there are other pets in the home the animal is bonded with
  • Proximity to parks, walking trails, etc. for dogs
  • Work schedules and how much time you’ll be home

We’ll highlight aspects of your living situation that show you can provide an ideal home for your pet.

4. Emotional Bond

While harder to quantify, the emotional connection between pet and owner is increasingly being considered. We may present evidence like:

  • Photos and videos showing your relationship with the pet
  • Testimony from friends/family about your bond
  • Information about time spent together, shared activities, etc.
  • Any special needs of the pet that you’re uniquely equipped to handle

5. Pet’s Routine and Familiarity

Courts generally want to minimize disruption to the pet’s established routine. We’ll emphasize factors like:

  • If the pet will be staying in its familiar home environment with you
  • Your ability to maintain the pet’s normal schedule and activities
  • Keeping the pet with other animals it’s bonded with

6. Children’s Attachment

If you have children, their relationship with the family pet may also be considered. We can argue that keeping kids and pets together is in everyone’s best interest.

7. Pet’s Origins

How the pet came into the family may also play a role. For example:

  • If you owned the pet before the marriage
  • If the pet was a gift specifically to you
  • If you were the one who adopted/purchased the pet

8. Registration and Veterinary Records

While not definitive, things like whose name is on adoption papers or vet records can be a factor. We’ll gather all relevant documentation to support your case.By thoroughly documenting these factors, we build the strongest possible case for why you should be awarded custody of your beloved pet. Our goal is always to achieve an outcome that’s in the best interest of both you and your animal companion.

Negotiating Pet Custody Agreements

At Spodek Law Group, we always encourage clients to try to reach an amicable agreement on pet custody if possible. Negotiating directly with your spouse (through your attorneys) gives you more control over the outcome and can lead to more creative, mutually beneficial solutions.Here are some tips for negotiating a fair pet custody agreement:

Be Willing to Compromise

Approach negotiations with an open mind and willingness to find middle ground. Remember that your spouse likely cares for the pet too. Being flexible and understanding can go a long way.

Focus on the Pet’s Wellbeing

Keep the pet’s best interests at the forefront. This can help take some of the emotion out of negotiations and lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Consider Shared Custody

Don’t assume it has to be all or nothing. Many couples find success with shared custody arrangements that allow both parties to maintain a relationship with the pet.

Get Specific in the Agreement

Spell out details like visitation schedules, financial responsibilities, and decision-making processes. The more specific you are, the less room for conflict later.

Include Contingency Plans

Address what happens in cases of moves, remarriage, or other major life changes. Having a plan in place can prevent issues down the road.

Put it in Writing

Once you reach an agreement, make sure it’s formalized in writing as part of your divorce settlement. This makes it legally enforceable.As your attorneys, we’ll guide you through negotiations and ensure any agreement protects your rights and interests. Our goal is to help you reach a fair compromise that allows you to maintain your cherished relationship with your pet.

What to Do If You Can’t Reach an Agreement

Unfortunately, not all couples are able to come to terms on pet custody. If negotiations break down, you may need to litigate the issue in court. While we always prefer to reach an amicable solution, rest assured that Spodek Law Group has extensive experience fighting for our clients’ rights to their pets in court.Here’s what you can expect if your pet custody dispute goes to trial:

Gathering Evidence

We’ll work with you to compile strong evidence supporting your case for custody. This may include:

  • Veterinary and financial records
  • Testimony from friends, family, or pet care professionals
  • Photos and videos demonstrating your bond with the pet
  • Documentation of your ability to provide the best home

Expert Witnesses

In some cases, we may bring in expert witnesses like veterinarians or animal behaviorists to testify about the pet’s needs and attachment.

Making Your Case in Court

We’ll present a compelling argument to the judge about why you should be awarded custody, based on factors like those discussed earlier in this article.

Potential Outcomes

The judge may:

  • Award sole custody to one party
  • Order some form of shared custody arrangement
  • Consider the pet’s best interests in making a determination

While going to court over pet custody can be stressful, having an experienced legal team in your corner makes all the difference. At Spodek Law Group, we fight passionately to protect our clients’ relationships with their beloved pets.

Protecting Your Pet’s Future: Pet Custody Agreements

One of the best ways to avoid a contentious pet custody battle during divorce is to have a plan in place ahead of time. At Spodek Law Group, we encourage couples to consider including pet custody provisions in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements.Here’s a look at how these agreements can help protect your relationship with your pet:

Prenuptial Agreements

A prenup can specify what happens to pets in the event of a divorce. This allows you to make decisions about pet custody when emotions aren’t running high. Some things to consider including:

  • Who gets primary custody of the pet
  • Visitation arrangements for the non-custodial owner
  • How pet-related expenses will be divided
  • What happens if one owner moves or remarries

Postnuptial Agreements

If you’re already married, a postnup can serve a similar function. This is especially useful if you acquire a pet during the marriage and want to clarify ownership.

Benefits of Pet Custody Agreements

Having a pet custody agreement in place offers several advantages:

  • Provides clarity and certainty about the pet’s future
  • Reduces conflict during divorce proceedings
  • Allows you to make decisions based on the pet’s best interests
  • Can be tailored to your specific situation and preferences


While courts have traditionally been reluctant to enforce pet custody agreements, this is changing. More judges are starting to honor these agreements, especially when they’re part of a broader prenup or postnup.At Spodek Law Group, we can help you draft a comprehensive pet custody agreement that protects your interests and provides peace of mind. We’ll ensure the agreement is properly structured to maximize its chances of being upheld in court if needed.

The Emotional Impact of Pet Custody Disputes

At Spodek Law Group, we understand that pet custody battles aren’t just about legal arguments – they’re deeply emotional experiences. Losing a beloved pet in a divorce can be just as heartbreaking as losing custody of a child for many people.Here are some of the emotional challenges our clients often face during pet custody disputes:

Grief and Loss

The prospect of losing daily contact with a cherished pet can trigger intense feelings of grief. Many people report going through stages similar to mourning a death.


Some pet owners feel guilty about “abandoning” their pet or fighting over custody. It’s important to remember that wanting to maintain your relationship with your pet is natural and valid.

Anger and Resentment

Disputes over pets can intensify negative feelings toward an ex-spouse. It’s crucial to try to keep emotions in check for the pet’s wellbeing.

Anxiety About the Pet’s Welfare

Concerns about how a pet will adjust to new living situations or divided custody can cause significant stress and worry.

Identity Shifts

For many people, being a pet owner is a core part of their identity. Losing that role can be deeply unsettling.

Tips for Coping

Here are some strategies we recommend to clients going through pet custody disputes:

  • Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist
  • Focus on self-care and stress management
  • Keep the pet’s best interests at the forefront
  • Consider mediation to reduce conflict
  • Document your bond with the pet (can also help your legal case)
  • Be open to creative custody solutions

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. At Spodek Law Group, we provide compassionate support along with strong legal advocacy. We’re here to help you navigate both the emotional and legal aspects of pet custody disputes.

Conclusion: Protecting Your Bond with Your Pet

Navigating pet custody issues during divorce can be complex and emotionally charged. At Spodek Law Group, we understand the deep bonds between humans and their animal companions. We’re committed to helping our clients maintain their cherished relationships with their pets while ensuring the animals’ wellbeing is protected.Whether you’re able to negotiate an amicable agreement with your spouse or need to fight for custody in court, having an experienced legal team on your side is crucial. Our attorneys stay up-to-date on the latest developments in pet custody law and know how to build compelling cases for our clients.We encourage you to be proactive about protecting your relationship with your pet. Consider including pet custody provisions in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. If you’re already facing a pet custody dispute, reach out to us as soon as possible so we can start building your case.Remember, your pet is counting on you to advocate for their best interests during this difficult time. With Spodek Law Group in your corner, you can feel confident that you’re doing everything possible to secure a positive outcome for both you and your beloved animal companion.Don’t leave your pet’s future to chance. Contact Spodek Law Group today at 212-300-5196 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced pet custody attorneys. Let us help you protect your bond with your furry family member.

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