Animals are considered to be property in New York State, so the divorcing couple may decide on pet ownership as part of the property splitting process.  For the purposes of veterinary care, at least, it is helpful if that decision is made in a timely fashion and with the approval of both parties so the pet's medical record can be updated with respect to ownership and authorization of treatment.  The designated owner can assign the other person as an agent to authorize treatment if they wish to do so, but only one person should be recorded as the owner (in patient records) to avoid uncertainty if there is ever any disagreement about treatment.

If both people were previously listed as owners, the veterinary practice should clarify their records by asking for a written statement signed by both parties and designating a single owner.  They should also inform the owner that an assigned agent can bring the animal in for examination or treatment, but that the owner will have to verify permission for serious or irreversible medical procedures such as spaying/neutering or euthanasia.  (This would also apply if no single owner is designated and both parties remain listed as owners; no serious or irreversible procedure should be performed without contacting the other owner shown in the medical record.)

Whenever an owner is unable or unwilling to come into the practice or to provide a written consent, oral consent for treatment can be given.  It should be given to two different people in the practice.  The owner can repeat their consent and/or instructions to the two people sequentially, or the two people in the practice can listen to the owner's consent/instructions at the same time.  If the latter method is used, the owner must be informed that a second person (to be identified by name) will be joining the phone conversation to hear the consent.  Oral consents must always be recorded in the medical record by the persons to whom the consent was communicated, and signed by them in the record.

Adapted from an opinion provided by NYSVMS' former legal counsel regarding ownership disputes.