How Pets Are Accounted for in a Divorce

In the United States, there are just over 63 million households that have a dog, and there are another nearly 43 million households that have at least one cat. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for married couples to own pets themselves. Let’s look at how pets are treated in divorce cases and how you can assert your rights to an animal to which you may have a strong attachment.

Pets Are Generally Considered to Be Property

It is important to mention that pets are considered property under state law even if you may consider them to be a part of your family. Therefore, you will obtain custody of an animal in much the same way that you would obtain possession of a couch or money inside of a bank account. As New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, it may be possible to obtain sole custody of an animal in exchange for other assets that you and your spouse possess together.

Is the Pet Separate Property?

If you can show that the pet is separate property, you will likely be able to keep it regardless of what your former spouse wants. An animal may be separate property if you owned it prior to the start of the marriage or used money that was considered separate property to buy it.

The Needs of the Animal Are Taken Into Account

A court is more likely to grant custody or visitation rights to an animal to the person who can best care for it. Therefore, you may need to be prepared to show that you are willing to feed it, play with it and take care of its medical needs. If you have children, it is important to show that neither your children nor the animal will be harmed by sharing a house together.

Harming an Animal Could Be Considered Domestic Abuse

In a domestic dispute, you or your spouse may feel compelled to use an animal as a way to get back at one another. It is important to note that harming an animal to get back at a former spouse could be considered an act of domestic abuse. The same could be true if you or your former spouse threatens to harm a pet.

Giving the Animal Away Could Be the Answer

Let’s say that you are moving from a home to a small apartment that doesn’t provide enough room for your large dog. Let’s also say that your former spouse has no interest in taking care of the animal, either. In such a scenario, you may be required to give the dog to a local shelter or otherwise make an effort to find a new home for your pet.

If you and your spouse are on good terms, it may be possible to work together to find a loving home for your animal. In some cases, this could mean letting a close friend or family member become its new parent. This may be ideal if you have children as it means that they could still interact with their furry friend on a regular basis.

Will a Pet Parenting Plan Hold Up in Court?

If you are able to come to a pet parenting agreement with your former spouse, it is likely that a judge will allow it to stand. However, courts generally don’t want to spend a lot of time resolving disputes involving animals. Instead, it may be a good idea to talk with a family law attorney about the best ways to get a spouse to honor the agreement. It may also be a good idea to work with a mediator to resolve issues related to a pet parenting agreement.

The next time that you need help resolving a family law issue, contact the attorneys at Morgenstern & Rochester today. You can reach us in Cherry Hill by calling (856) 489-6200 or sending a fax to (856) 424-6977.