What are Your Rights? The Debate Over Changing New York’s Pet Custody Laws

Male: The following segment is sponsored by Martin, Harding and Mazzotti.

Interviewer: A new law in the State of Illinois now gives judges the power to treat the family dog, well, more like family. Historically considered personal property, courts are now being empowered to consider what might be in the best interest of the animal when deciding pet custody issues.

Now, here to help examine this topic is Paul Harding from the law firm of Martin, Harding and Mazzotti. Paul, welcome back.

Paul: Thank you.

Interviewer: Happy New Year.

Paul: Thank you.

Interviewer: So, really interesting topic here. Can you kind of explain what the law has traditionally been for dealing with pets?

Paul: Sure can. So, pets have been treated, up till this very moment and currently in New York, as personal property, the same way you would treat a couch or jewelry or just [inaudible 00:00:43] or your car. So, any time there was gonna be a division of that, or someone was gonna get possession, they would just look at that math. And with matrimonial actions, divorce actions, things get heated up when they’re trying to figure out where the family dog is gonna go.

Interviewer: All right. So, can you just explain to us how this new law in the State of Illinois might change that legal analysis for, you know, the courts maybe here in New York?

Paul: Sure. Well, everyone’s looking at this really closely, because it is an issue. There is a very heated debate about this. So, what happens is, they’re gonna look at it the way they look at child custody and child issues. So, “What’s in the best interest of the child? If there’s two children, we can’t divide them up. So, if there’s two dogs, for example, would it make sense for each to take one? Well, what about the stress of the dog losing its partner?” So, they’re gonna be looking at it that way, and we’re gonna find out that the courts now have the right to make joint custody and joint ownership, just like with children.

Interviewer: All right. So, last question for you. We’re seeing a lot more of these service animals. I know I can’t travel, I can’t go on a plane without seeing one. So, what happens to those animals when a couple divorces?

Paul: So, there’s an exclusion in that, that if it’s a service animal, it’s treated as property, and it’s yours. So, we can almost see there might be some strategy in a matrimony. If you’re gonna get a divorce, you might go get that service animal kind of figured out so that the dog or cat is yours. And then they stood with the matrimonial action, thereby getting rid of the new rule, keeping your animal with you.

Interviewer: All right, Paul, thank you so much for being here.

Paul: You’re welcome.

Interviewer: Very interesting topic.

Paul: Sure it is.

Interviewer: It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.