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Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

Brooklyn resident Craig Dershowitz is embroiled in a fierce custody battle — over his dog, Knuckles. Dershowitz and his former girlfriend Sara Brega have filed in both New York and California courts for an order of custody for the dog they once shared. The Puggle (part beagle, part pug) is currently living with Brega in California, but Dershowitz is determined to bring the dog back to New York. Dershowitz has already spent $60,000 on his pet custody case, and anticipates it will cost and additional $20,000. He has set up a website to collect donations and is selling items of value — like a $200 game of fetch with Knuckles — to pay his legal fees. 

Pets are not children 

Pet custody battles have become more frequent, indicating to family courts around the country that the legal system needs to devise a more effective way to determine pet ownership. According to the law, pets fall into the category of household items — like furniture — when marital assets are divided. There is currently no concept of best interest of the pet as there is for children. If a divorcing couple cannot decide between them who gets the pets, a judge decides based on these considerations: 

  • The history of the pet with each partner — if one partner purchased the pet prior to the marriage or gifted the pet to the other partner
  • The ability of each partner to care for the pet — both financially and in lifestyle
  • The location of the children — if it is in their interest to live with the pets 

Many judges are reluctant to become involved with pet custody determinations as emotions can run high and increase demand on the court’s limited time and resources. As pet custody battles increase, judges have been forced to concede that many couples are deeply attached to their shared pets and require legal intervention to decide on custody issues. 

Sharing pet custody 

In some cases a couple might choose to retain shared custody of a pet. This arrangement requires that both parties provide a suitable home for the pet and be able to afford food, upkeep, veterinary costs and boarding fees if necessary. A couple that shares pet custody should form a contractual agreement regarding health care, breeding options and end of life plan. 

Most divorcing couples will benefit from excellent legal representation while dividing assets — including pets. If you are divorcing, a Buffalo, New York divorce attorney is available for a free consultation.

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