One type of dispute that sometimes arises in a divorce are disputes regarding pets. There have been some interesting legal developments in the area of divorce-related pet disputes in recent years.
Traditionally, in cases in which a divorcing couple was in a dispute over who gets to keep a family pet, courts treated the pet in question as property and turned to property division considerations (such as whether or not the pet was martial property) when deciding how the dispute should be resolved. However, in recent times, there has been a move in some jurisdictions towards treating pet dispute cases more like child custody matters than property division matters. In this new approach, the focus is on things like which divorcing party will do a better job at caring for the pet rather than on property division factors.
A move towards this new approach occurred here in New York in a recent pet dispute case.
The dispute involved the divorce of a same-sex couple. The two women had gotten married in 2012. Prior to their marriage, one of the women had bought a miniature dachshund for the other as a gift.
In their divorce, a dispute arose between the two women over who would get to have the dog now that they were splitting up.
The judge in their case then made a ruling that was a novel one here in New York. The judge ruled that this dispute should be handled as a custody matter and that a custody hearing should be held to determine which of the two women would get the dog.
However, no precedent-setting hearing ultimately occurred in this case, as the dispute ended up being resolved through a settlement. In the settlement, the two women agreed that the woman who was given the dog as a gift could keep the dog.
While this case ultimately didn’t result in a judge making a decision in a pet dispute case using a custody format rather than a property division one, it has perhaps opened the door to such decisions being made here in New York in the future. One wonders if New York judges will ultimately switch from the property division model to a custody model when it comes to pet dispute cases.
What direction do you think New York should go when it comes to divorce-related pet disputes?
Sources: New York Post, “Dog fight over in dachshund custody battle,” Julia Marsh, Dec. 10, 2013
New York Post, “Landmark custody battle over dog in divorce,” Julia Marsh, Dec. 4, 2013