Early in my career I drafted an agreement for two soon to-be ex-spouses to share possession of their two (2) pure-bred golden retrievers.  After meeting with my client, the Husband, I deemed it my pet custody project and I went to town crafting an elaborate agreement including a five (5) year schedule (yes, you read that right) in which these pure bred dogs would be shipped every two (2) months from Florida to Pittsburgh, where the Wife was relocating.  It was an uncontested divorce with two people who wanted to share possession of their pet “children.”  However, in high conflict divorce litigation, the issue of who keeps the family’s beloved animals can add fuel to an already growing fire.

Under the current state of the law, possession of a family pet may be awarded to the party who purchased the animal and paid for maintenance of the pet. However, more often than not, courts find such squabbles over possession of an animal to not be worthy of court resources and urge the parties to settle the matter between themselves. In high conflict matters, the parties can spend countless hours negotiating a resolution that adds the family pet to a roster of assets on a spreadsheet to be divided up. However, one millennial Senator has set about to create a change in New York law that some may say is long over-due.

In February 2021, James Skoufis, a 33-year-old State Senator, introduced a bill seeking to amend Section 236 of the Domestic Relations Law.  The proposed legislation would add a fifteenth factor to New York’s equitable distribution statute, which would allow judges to consider the best interests of a companion animal when awarding possession in a divorce action.  The bill has passed both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate and is awaiting delivery to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A copy of Senate Bill 4248 can be found here:  Legislation NY Senate.gov Bills 2021.

We will continue to monitor this bill as it awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature. In the interim, or if this bill is not signed by the Governor, a validly executed Pre-Nuptial Agreement can be used to resolve such issues of possession of a family pet. To learn why Pre-Nuptial Agreements are important to consider before tying the knot, you can find my prior blog post here: Four Things to Consider Before You Say I Do.

Marissa Pullano focuses her practice on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including contested proceedings regarding the equitable distribution of substantial real property and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, paternity, custody and access, and order modification and enforcement. She also has experience drafting prenuptial, postnuptial and separation agreements. Marissa believes that all clients deserve significant attention as they navigate the court system. She strives to achieve resolutions that minimize conflict but acts as a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients in the courtroom when litigation cannot be avoided.

The material in this blog is meant only to provide general information and is not a substitute nor is it legal advice to you. Readers of this article should seek specific legal advice from legal counsel of their choice. In the event that you need legal assistance regarding matrimonial and/or family law matters, Marissa  can be reached at mpullano@jaspanllp.com or (516) 393-8297.