Pet Custody in a New Jersey Divorce

Pet custody in New Jersey is not governed by any specific laws. However, your furry, feathered, or even scaled companions are a big part of your life, and we want to help you keep them a part of it. Mediation can help couples identify a primary caregiver and arrange visitation rights to ensure they can maintain contact with their pet after they divorce.

How Pet Custody Works

With approximately 70% of American households having at least one pet, the rise of pet custody is an increasing trend in divorce cases.

Pet custody refers to ownership as well as visitation. The couple can negotiate where the pets will live, who will pay for their care, and who sees the pet when. It can also define what will happen to the pet when one or both pet parents pass away, and it can even account for vacations, such as if you’ll be going on a camping trip and want to take the pet with you.

While there are no specific laws regarding pet custody laws in New Jersey, a court will still consider each case based on factors such as emotional welfare and financial ability to care for the animals. Although pets are discussed when settling assets and property, they are not regarded as inanimate objects.

Instead, the court addresses pet ownership in a divorce from several angles. It will consider who cares for the animals the most, who has the greatest ability to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment, and who has been the primary caregiver of the pets throughout the course of the marriage.

How to Negotiate Pet Custody

Working with a New Jersey family law attorney can be helpful in reaching an amicable agreement that outlines the specifics of your pets’ care. If you pursue mediation, it will generally cover factors such as:

  • Identifying a primary caregiver
  • Developing pet visitation schedules
  • Establishing a savings account for pet care and veterinarian expenses
  • Writing care schedules to lay guidelines for feeding, exercise, vet visits, shots, and more

The goal is to ensure that each party is permitted to have the level of involvement that they want in their pets’ lives while maintaining the greatest level of safety and stability for the animals.

In New Jersey, the custody arrangement will likely be written as a shared possession agreement. This contract expresses mutual commitment to care for the animals according to the outlined terms and conditions.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that someone who is connected to an animal and has the means to care for them can continue to enjoy their companionship. This may involve routine visits or having a split living arrangement where both owners get to spend equal time with the pet.

The court will consider how much a pet means to each individual, including any children involved. If the animal in question is a family pet, then the court will likely feel it is best to keep the pet with the children in their home.

While this may upset the other spouse, it does not mean they can never see their pet again. They can seek visitation rights so that they can spend time with them, just like they will be able to spend time with their children.

Pet Custody Rights in New Jersey

I you are unable to agree to custody agreements, you have the right to take legal action. Because pets are classified as personal property in New Jersey, an individual can sue their spouse for ownership during a divorce trial. You may also consider suing for ownership if your partner has decided to withhold access to the pet that you once shared as a couple.

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney

Reach out to the law offices of Morgenstern & Rochester if you are seeking legal counsel and support during your divorce. We can help you build a strong case to protect your rights to pet custody. Contact a New Jersey family law attorney by calling our Cherry Hill office at (856) 489-6200 or by submitting our online form.