Pet Custody Disputes on the Rise in New York Divorce Cases

Disputes over who gets custody of the family pet are becoming increasingly more prevalent in New York divorce cases. Although the law still recognizes animals as “property,” over the last decade courts are increasingly taking into consideration the shift in society’s views regarding pet “ownership”—now frequently referred to as pet “parenting.” In fact, according to a recent study conducted, 44% of millennials see pets as their “starter children” as they delay having families until later in life.

As we view our pets as family members, it is no wonder that emotions concerning a beloved pet’s custody in a divorce case run very high. It is not uncommon for a tug of war to ensue between a divorcing couple over who gets to keep the dog, cat, or other pet. In a 2013 landmark case, Travis v. Murray, a New York court determined the standard for which spouse is awarded custody of the pet. In this case, the court applied a “best for all concerned” standard and rejected a strict property analysis, taking into consideration that dog owners view their pets as more than “mere property.”

In Travis v. Murray, the court’s criteria for the “best for all concerned” addressed the queries of:

  • Why the spouse would benefit from having the pet in their life

  • Why the pet would be better off with one spouse as opposed to the other

In order for one party to prevail over the other, the court would consider factors such as:

  • Which spouse was responsible for the feeding, grooming and medical needs of the pet

  • Who spent more time with the pet regularly

While no one wants to plan for divorce, it is best to keep records, receipts, date book entries and journal entries concerning your involvement in your pet’s care in the event that a custody dispute may one day arise. For example, if you are primarily responsible for the pet’s care, you may consider keeping calendar entries of your pet’s grooming and veterinary visits, as well as keeping a log of time spent with your pet walking, playing, and exercising.

Divorce is one of the most stressful situations a person can face in their lifetime. It can be especially emotionally difficult if there are custody issues to resolve concerning either children or pets. If you are facing a custody dispute concerning your pet, it is best to speak with an attorney who can advise you concerning your specific situation. The Law Office of Jessica M. Semins is available to represent clients throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester on matrimonial matters and issues concerning Pet Custody disputes. Contact The Law Office of Jessica M. Semins to set up a consultation to discuss the best options for you and your pet. Call (646) 397-6844 to schedule an appointment. Office locations in Manhattan and Melville, Long Island for the convenience of clients.

Manhattan Office: 11 Broadway, Suite 615, New York NY 11364

Melville, Long Island Office: 445 Broad Hollow Road, Suite 25, Melville, NY 11747

Attorney advertising: This article is not meant to be construed as legal advice, nor form an attorney-client relationship.


Attorney Advertising.  The content contained herein is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor form an attorney-client relationship. (c) 2019 The Law Office of Jessica M. Semins, Jessica M. Semins, Esq.