I’m Getting Divorced – Who Gets My Pet?

dog-divorce-300x200Although pets are considered property in a divorce court, they mean much more to us than typical possessions. Most people consider their pets to be actual members of their families. For this reason, pets have become a big source for stress in divorce proceedings. Nobody wants to lose his or her friend in a court case. There are no definitive laws in NJ currently for deciding which spouse keeps a pet. However, there are multiple factors that typically push the scales in either direction. These are wide ranging from the possible kids’ relationship with the animal, what is the best environment for the pet, and which spouse was closest with the animal.

Who Will Keep the Pet?

Paper work is important when going into divorce court with a pet on the line. Make sure to stop by your vet to see whose name is listed as the owner of the animal. A copy of the purchasing contract and the full list of vaccinations may also be useful.

The first factor that goes into who keeps the pet in a divorce is who spent the most time with the animal during the marriage. This is believed to be what is best for the pet itself. The divorce should not knock the pet’s routine completely off kilter. This, however, can change depending on which spouse gets custody of the kids. If the children were very close with the animal, then they will likely get to keep it no matter what issues come up in the separation. It is often noted that pets help kids deal with stressful times like a divorce. The animal will be able to help them move on from the rough experience and give them some comfort and someone to love.

Another factor in pet custody in NJ is who will be able to take care of the animal the best. Say, for instance, the wife wins custody of the children, but she is moving into a small apartment and the family pet was a very large breed of dog like a Saint Bernard. In this case, the husband may be able to keep possession of the animal because he has the proper living environment. It should be noted this is an extreme case and more often than not the pet moves with the children. Like children, however, it is highly reasonable for parents to come up with a shared custody plan for the pet so that both spouses enjoy the animal’s company. It is important to be rational in divorce proceedings and seeing both spouses is likely what is best for the animal as well. Unless distance is an issue, making time to share the animal may not too difficult if both partners are willing.

Because there are no definitive pet custody laws in NJ, the court makes decisions on an individual basis. NJ family courts must examine each specific scenario before making a ruling. The reasons above are common factors in a decision. Usually, the court is simply trying to do what’s best for everyone involved— including the pet.