Pets are part of the family. Many New Jersey couples treat their pets like their children, regardless of whether they have human children or not. This leads many couples to question how custody of their pets will be determined during a divorce.
There is no law in place regarding pet custody in New Jersey. In previous decades, pets were treated as pieces of personal property during the divorce process and subject to the division factors included in New Jersey’s property division statute. Today, with changed attitudes toward the pet’s role within a family in place, New Jersey divorce courts are more likely to determine custody of a couple’s pet similarly to how they determine custody for children. Although certain factors that are applied to children, such as personal and educational needs, are not present when determining where a dog or a cat should live, the court may consider which partner’s household is better suited for the animal.
In many cases, children have significant bonds with their pets. Many courts opt to award custody of the pet to the parent with primary custody of the children to avoid severing this relationship. Divorce is stressful for children and in many cases, having a pet present can make the transition easier.
In some cases, the noncustodial parent may take the pet for his or her parenting time with the children, basically keeping a schedule where the pet goes wherever the children go.
If one spouse can prove that he or she put significantly more money and energy into the pet’s care, the court may be more likely to award custody of the animal to him or her. An individual can prove this by providing receipts for veterinary care, grooming, boarding, and other pet-related needs.
For animals where the money spent is a significant investment, such as horses, the monetary value of the animal and its care may play a greater role in determining which partner retains ownership of the pet.
In some cases, one spouse may keep the marital home while the other moves into an apartment or rental house. Many rental properties do not allow pets. When this is the case, the court may opt to award custody to the partner who owns a home. Other factors may include whether each partner has a yard for the pet or if either partner’s home otherwise poses a safety risk to the animal.
Pets are not children. However, they do hold an important place in many people’s hearts and provide comfort, companionship, and even service to their owners. If you are a pet owner and you are considering filing for divorce, talk with an experienced attorney about all the issues that may arise regarding your pet’s custody. Contact The Law Office of Eric B. Hannum Esq., LLC. at (732) 365-3299 to discuss pet custody and other divorce-related topics with one of the experienced divorce attorneys at our firm.