Dear Porky & Buddy,
I am going through a divorce and my (soon to be ex-) husband is insisting that he wants our dogs. That is just crazy! They don’t even like him as much as they like me and he never spent much time with them when we were living together so how could it be in their best interest to be with him now. But he says he paid for them, so they’re his. What are my rights here? What are their rights? What if he gets them and just takes them to a shelter or worse just to get back at me?
This is something you really need to talk to your lawyer about as we can’t give you advice related to your specific case.
But we can tell you about the law in New York as it pertains to pets.
Pets are property, personal property.
They may seem like your loving and loyal companions, but in the eyes of the judicial system they are property, just like the Elvis velvet painting and the lawnmower.
If a married couple acquires a pet using marital assets, (i.e. the income that either of you earns and puts into the marriage) then they are also a “marital asset” to be distributed by the court as it sees fit.
In our experience, no judge wants to rule on who gets Fido and Fluffy, but they will if they have to.
And the pet’s “best interest” is irrelevant.
The property just gets split up, usually but not always 50/50, and if a divorcing couple can’t agree then the court can order that the personal property be auctioned off.
Yep, Fido and Fluffy at an auction house.
Does it ever really come to that?
We don’t know of any cases where this worst case scenario has happened, but you have to understand this concept in order to know how to advocate for your pets in a divorce situation.
We know that people sometimes use pets (much the way they sometimes, and shamefully, use children) as weapons in a divorce action.
But we suspect that a lot of times both parties are genuinely fond of the pets and make their claims more or less in good faith.
That is the point at which grownup pet owners (like grownup parents) need to be able to communicate with each other about what is best for their companions with no rights of their own.
Questions like who has the most appropriate living space; who will be responsible for veterinary bills; who will have “custody” or “visitation” and how that will work are all issues that you can come to an agreement about even if the judicial system doesn’t care.
And really, you have no choice.
No one else, certainly not a judge, will protect your pets the way you and your (soon to be ex-) spouse can.
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter assistance, information and referral, adoption assistance to pet owners, humane education programs, foster care and adoption for pets in urgent need, assistance with lost and found pets to animal lovers across Oswego County.
Our administrative offices and spay/neuter clinic are located at 265 W. First St., Oswego, NY.
Check our web site at www.oswegohumane.org or call (315) 207-1070 for more information or to be placed on our mailing list for our newsletter.
Because People and Pets Are Good for Each Other.