What Do I Do In A Custody Battle Over A Pet?


Dear Yetta:

I am writing because I don’t know what to do. My partner and I broke up a few months ago, but she has recently become very antagonistic. We had adopted a pit bull together, and now she is demanding that the dog is hers. The problem is that she is really abusive towards the dog, and I can’t help think it’s because she knows how much it upsets me. I don’t want her to take the dog. Is there anything I can do?

-Scared for both of us

* * *

Dear Scared,

I am sorry you are going through this difficult time. You have to take these threats seriously and I strongly advise getting legal and professional help immediately.

Watching someone abuse an animal is a horrible thing to witness, and many believe there is a strong predictor between abuse towards animals and abuse towards other people. As far as your dog is concerned, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that animals unfortunately under New York State civil law are considered “chattel” otherwise knows as simply property. As unbelievable as this is, when it comes to “ownership” or rights to keep the dog, the law clearly ignores the overwhelming value of a companion animal in your home. So, if your partner “takes” the dog the only loss you can claim is that of conversion, namely, what the monetary loss of this taking is. There is nothing like you see in family Court with children, e.g. a “best interest” standard that allows the Court to decide which human would be better for the dog’s wellbeing.

The good news, however, is that there is a fairly recent law (2006) under Section 842, Article 8 of the New York Family Court Act that allows you to get an order of protection which would not only protect you but would also include protection of your dog. This law would prohibit your ex from physically harming your dog.

I hope this helps and I would also direct you to visit the LGBT Community Center’s website at www.gaycenter.org for resources dealing with domestic violence and be sure to mention Section 842 of the New York Family Court Act.

Good luck.

*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.

© 2012 GO NYC MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. See original here.