If you are getting divorced, you probably know that the court will make some kind of determination about your children’s living, visitation, and custody schedule. But what about your other “kids”—the ones with fur, feathers, tails and whiskers? Yes, our pets are our babies, and many divorcing couples find themselves fighting over who will get custody of the pets just as they fight over issues surrounding human children.
How Pets are Treated in New Jersey Divorces
This is an area where the technical language of the law diverges from what judges actually do, and how they make decisions.
On the one hand, the law treats pets as property, no different than any other piece of property that you own. The court looks at who bought the property, who paid for it, its value, the parties’ contribution to it, and then gives it to one spouse or the other.
This is how pets are treated under the language of the law. There is no “best interests of the dog” test, the way we would ask what is in the best interest of a human child.
Reality is Different
However, the practical reality in a courtroom is very different. Most judges will not simply treat your kitten like it was a couch; most will look at the factors you may imagine should be factors, when making determinations about who gets “custody” over an animal.
One thing that may affect who gets the pet, is where the child is, if the child is attached to the animal. A judge may order that the pet rotate between spouse households as the child does, so as to allow the child to remain with the animal.
Courts may look at both parties’ attachments to the animal, and which spouse cared for the pet, took it to the vet, took it to the park, or generally had a more meaningful interaction with the animal. Courts will also look at your schedule—if a parent works 10 hours a day and nobody else is home, the other spouse may be the better fit.
One alternative is to give the pet to one parent, and then give the other spouse some sort of monetary sum, to account for the loss of companionship of the animal. But courts have recently realized that money alone cannot make up for the loss of companionship of an animal, and that this may not be the best way to make pet custody decisions.
Custody Only – No Support
Remember that if you get a pet in your divorce, the court will only award you ownership of the animal. The court will not require “pet support payments,” nor will both “pet parents” have any say over how the animal is taken care of—only the custodial pet parent will make those decisions and be obligated to pay for expenses related to the pet ownership.
Contact our New Jersey divorce law attorneys at The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC to learn what to expect in all areas of your New Jersey divorce case.