Whether your dog is more akin to Lassie, Toto, Snoopy or Scooby Doo, one thing is clear… Westchester families LOVE their dogs. We have over 200,000 dogs in our county. Not only do we love our canines but we treat them like members of our families. Westchester boasts dog therapists, astrologers, bakers, party planners, pet friendly hotels and crematories, cosmetic surgeons and yes, even the occasional “Bark Mitzvah.” So what happens to our furry friends when we end our marriages?
Up until last week, New York, like many jurisdictions, considered dogs the same as any other type of property; no different than your couch or snow blower. In fact, one judge told a divorcing couple feuding about a dog to “Go out and buy another one. Do not take up a judge’s time when there are children to be cared for and support to be enforced. Don’t ever bring a stupid issue like that before me.”
This archaic view of pets changed last week when a New York judge decided to hold a one day hearing to determine who would get custody of Joey, the spouses’ dachshund. But the judge found that it would be a “winner take all” decision and he refused to award any visitation to the losing party. Imagine how devastating this verdict could be to the losing spouse, who must now give up all ties to Joey. Since, here in Westchester, we treat our pets much like our children, wouldn’t a better decision have been to let both spouses continue their loving relationship with their dog? In fact, the judge in this case actually recommended and encouraged that the divorcing couple “informally make their own arrangements” for the well-being of both them and Joey. This is exactly what mediation strives to accomplish.
When two separating spouses are in disagreement as to where their pet should live, mediation is the ONLY way to obtain shared custody and let the dog remain a part of both of their lives. In my practice, I help divorcing spouses come up with a schedule that will work best for them and their canines. We address the emotional and financial concerns of all family members as well as work obligations and adult and children’s schedules. In the end, I help craft a plan that works best for that family’s unique circumstances; one that allows them to preserve their relationship with their canine. This way I am confident that the spouses, children and beloved pet will all thrive in their new environments. Oh, and if you do opt for the “Bark Mitzvah”, take the high road. For the sake of your dog, invite your ex.