New York State Governor Kathy Hochul signed the bill on Oct. 25, 2021 and, effective immediately, the new state law now requires the court to custody in the “best interest” of the pet. Whether the Court will use many of the same factors that are utilized in determining the best interest of a child to determine custody of a pet will remain to be seen.
In fact, this new law raises many questions and concerns.
How The Courts Consider Pets
New York courts have historically struggled with how to determine issues of pet “custody.”
Should pets be considered in light of property law or the law governing best interest, in much the same way as child custody is determined?
Classifying pets as strictly “personal property” doesn’t acknowledge the ever-increasing shift in our culture to pets as family members.
However, child custody determinations require a tremendous amount of factual information, a great deal of court resources, money and time.
A Different Approach
Some courts have rejected both approaches, implementing an objective, judicially crafted “best for all concerned” standard to avoid both extremes. But this new law in New York overlooks that possibility and requires Judges to utilize a best interest standard. This will likely require testimony, court require animal psychologists and opens up the door to many different issues such as later modification of custody, support for the pet and many other post divorce issues. Are we going to hear testimony about who is best suited emotionally, physically and financially to care for the pet? Will there eventually be access for the non-custodial pet parent? If so, are we going to have pet parent coordinators, forensics etc.?
It’s critical to consider how this new law will impact judicial time and resources that will be allocated to pet custody concerns rather than child custody concerns. I have seen people waiting months, sometimes years, for their child custody cases to be determined; will this new law increase that wait time?
For more about my thoughts on this new law, read my full article in the New York Law Journal here.