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Pets of Divorce: Who Gets Custody?

owners pulling dogs leash

Pets are a big part of our families - they provide love, comfort, and companionship. Unfortunately, when married couples are going through the process of a divorce, determining who will keep the beloved family pet isn't always easy to agree upon. Our Middlesex County divorce lawyers are here to explain what New Jersey law has to say about pets of divorce.

Pet Custody in New Jersey

Can someone obtain custody of a pet? While in some states, there are specific laws that clearly state how to handle pets in a divorce, the majority of the country defines pets as property. This includes New Jersey.

While you may think of your pet as more than just property, the Court does not attach the same emotion you do when "dividing" our furry little friend. Pets are considered personal property, and the Court will decide who will be responsible for caring for them and who is entitled to keep them when determining how marital property will be divided.

How Does the Court Decide Pet Custody?

The Court will look at several factors to determine how to award "custody" of a pet. While the pet is considered property, the Court may consider how each owner has been involved in the pet's life.

For example, the Court will typically take the following factors into consideration:

● Which spouse purchased the pet?

● Was the pet purchased before the marriage started or after?

● Who has spent more income on the pet for food, general care, veterinary bills, etc.?

The Court will not consider who primarily takes care of the animal, nor which spouse has a better relationship with the pet. Since the animal is considered "property," the Court is primarily focused on the financial aspects of the pet or which spouse has invested the most money in the pet.

Other Ways to Obtain Pet Custody

Some pet owners don't want to put the "custody" of their pet in the hands of the Court. Fortunately, there are other options.

First, if you and your spouse can come to an agreement, you can agree amongst yourselves who will take the pet. If you have more than one, you can always split them up so that you and your spouse each retain "custody" of one of the pets after the divorce.

Another option (that can be more difficult) is to try sharing custody of the pet. Each spouse can take turns keeping the pet in their home. For some couples, this could be the perfect solution. For others...not so much. Animals could have a hard time adapting to change like this, so it may not be the best choice, especially since this ties the parties together after the divorce.

One last option that you might want to consider is getting a "pet-nup," which is similar to a postnuptial or prenuptial agreement. This option will not help you if you are already in the middle of the divorce process, but for couples that are either engaged or already married, it could be useful to obtain. Essentially, a pet-nup is a written agreement that explicitly states who will get the family pet in the event of a divorce. Thus, ensuring there are no doubts about who will have custody of the animal.

If you have concerns about the custody of your pet, please reach out to our Middlesex County divorce lawyers at Rozin | Golinder Law by calling us today at (732) 810-0034.

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