To you, your favorite dog, cat or hamster is a legitimate member of the family. To New York’s court system, though, your beloved family pet is lumped in the same category as your couch, jewelry and 401(k) account. The fact that pets are treated as property during divorce often muddles courtroom proceedings. When it comes to pets, property division really can go to the dogs if you have not developed a coherent strategy.

Couples in New York are developing creative solutions for their pet custody woes. In some instances, these puppy parents are creating parenting plans for their animals that parallel those used for children. Although there is no formal structure for this process in the courts, it is possible to draft an independent document that lays out custody and visitation requirements for your animal. Your attorney will play an instrumental role in developing this document, as pets are still officially considered property in the New York courts — and there is no existing legal framework for deciding pet custody.

What happens if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement about pet custody? Although your pet is still considered “property” — like a car or a home — the court will still take some additional factors into account. Judges are most likely to consider the role of each spouse in the care and welfare of the animal. For example, the spouse who most often feeds, grooms and transports the pet may have an advantage when it comes to receiving custody of the animal.

Pet custody is a serious property division issue that sometimes warrants creative solutions. You and your ex-spouse have a variety of options when it comes to this aspect of marital property division. An experienced attorney can help you develop a customized arrangement for pet custody — or simply bolster your property division argument in family court.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Divorce Confidential: The Fight for Your Pet in Divorce” Caroline Choi, Sep. 24, 2014