An article in last week’s New York Times particularly resonated with me, since it focused on something I’ve been dealing with in a variety of New York cases for decades. With a headline of California Divorce Courts Go to Dogs as Pets Gain Status, the article looked into a new California state law that goes into effect January 1st. It gives judges the authority to settle pet custody issues in a divorce, just as they have jurisdiction over each divorcing couple’s children.
In many divorce cases, a dog or cat becomes an important part of the proceedings; owners consider them beloved family members, are concerned about their care, and can’t imagine living without them. In most states, ownership of pets in a divorce is decided under contract law, taking into account factors including who paid for the animal initially and for most of the bills for its care and upkeep. The result is not only unsatisfactory, but often simply very cruel. When a pet is purchased, it’s best to have a clear understanding of these issues, preferably in writing.
If you’re involved in a divorce and own a pet, it’s worth thinking about what situation will be least jarring and most comfortable for that canine or feline member of the household, but keep in mind that dogs and cats are usually much more adaptable than might be expected. Keeping them well cared for, nurtured, and loved is, of course, a priority.
Also, joint custody of a pet is an option in a divorce, and sometimes it’s the preferred way to settle a dog or cat’s custody. As with children, sharing custody requires clear lines of communication, even if they are through divorce lawyers instead of speaking or emailing directly.