If I leave the relationship, who gets our pet?

If I leave the relationship, who gets our pet?

As you know if you follow us on Instagram or Twitter, C. A. Goldberg, PLLC, is extremely dog friendly. A number of the CAG crew are survivors of abuse and privacy violations, and our dogs – who frequently come to work with us – soothe, comfort, and support the whole team, and sometimes our clients too! A pet’s presence can soothe a survivor’s frazzled nervous system and provide the kind of mutual devotion that reminds us how a connection can be.

The National Survey on Domestic Violence and Pets found that 91% of survivors said their pets’ emotional support and physical protection are significant in their ability to survive and heal. Given that pets are a non-negotiable component of many family units, failure to provide services that accommodate them inhibits people from leaving an abusive relationship.

Too many times, we’ve seen pets become pawns in the power games that abusers use to control their victims.

If you brought a dog into a relationship (or obtained a dog while in a relationship) that you’re now scared to leave, you might find that the dog is one of the anchors that keeps you there.

Individuals who commit pet abuse are more likely to become domestic abusers: pet abuse was identified as one of the four significant predictors for intimate partner violence. And studies have shown that animals are abused by perpetrators to frighten partners, as a threat of further attack on a partner, as a means of controlling the victim, or as a twisted form of inflicting retaliation against or punishment on a victim. One study found that upwards of 71% of abused women reported that their pets had been threatened, harmed, and or killed by their partners.*

But physical abuse of the pet is not always involved. We know from our extensive experience of dealing with insidious and coercive abusers that sometimes narcissists and sociopaths can be (or can make themselves appear to be) decent dog parents. Sometimes abusers are able to offer a level of tenderness and dignity to a pet that they cannot muster for their human partner.

So even if physical abuse has not occurred, women may find themselves scared to leave a relationship because they fear retaliation: distributing naked images, spreading secrets, trying to get a victim fired from her job, or a neverending struggle for custody of a pet. The struggle over a pet is just another one of the ways that a toxic person can manipulate and intimidate a victim, isolate them from their support system, or maintain contact and control even after the victim has left the relationship.

Too many times, we’ve seen pets become pawns in the power games that abusers use to control their victims.


So if you’re scared to leave a relationship for fear of your pet either being harmed or being left with the person you’re leaving, what are your options?

Reminder: It’s complicated, and we are speaking in general terms that do not constitute legal advice – get in touch here for legal advice!

Per New York law, if you break up you don’t automatically get the dog – even if the purchase or adoption is in your name. Unfortunately (and fortunately, depending on where you’re sitting) the law is more complex than whether your name is on the pet’s paperwork. 

It is generally acknowledged that the presumption of ownership goes to the person who brought the dog into the relationship.

If the dog was purchased/adopted while you were in the relationship, even if your abuser’s name is on the paperwork then you still might be able to (legally) leave with the dog.

You can’t get arrested for kidnapping if you take the dog (as it’s a civil issue not a criminal issue) BUT an abuser could use you taking the dog as justification to retaliate and cause you extreme difficulty. So it’s tremendously important to make a safety plan that incorporates your pet and have a strategy in place in case they try to accuse you of stealing the dog or retaliate by harming you.

It’s complicated, so we highly recommend talking to a lawyer ASAP about how to extricate yourself and your pet in the safest way possible.

One option a lawyer can help you with is getting an Order of Protection that includes the pet. Orders of Protection provide a strong deterrent from retaliation or on-going intimidation because violating an of Order of Protection is an arrestable offense. Another advantage of obtaining an Order of Protection through Family Court is that you don’t have to wait for the cops to investigate. You go straight to a judge, explain your situation, and potentially walk out with an OP the same day without ever setting foot in a police station.


How do you get a dog included in an Order of Protection?

In New York, companion animals owned by the petitioner (aka the person seeking the OP), or a minor child residing in the household, can be included in a protective order. 

The law specifically allows a court to order the offender/abuser to refrain from injuring or killing any animal owned, possessed, or looked after by the petitioner or a minor child residing in the household.

An experienced attorney can guide you through how to gather evidence and advocate effectively for a pet to be included in a Family Court Order of Protection.

You can get in touch with us to discuss your options here.

Now check out our free resource for 12 tips for safety planning with a pet for lots more info, and tips for California and New Jersey, where we also practice!


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*(Ascione, Weber, & Wood, 1997; Flynn, 2000; Loring & Bolden-Hines, 2004).

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We are not your attorney. Nothing on our website, blog, or social media should be interpreted as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. You should not act or rely on the basis of information on this site without seeking the advice of an attorney. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please keep in mind that the success of any legal matter depends on the unique circumstances of each case: we cannot guarantee particular results for future clients based on successes we have achieved in past legal matters.