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Can I Fight for Pet Custody in a New Jersey Divorce?

A divorcing couple often fights over who gets the home and who has custody of the children. Those questions rank at the top of the dispute list. Over the last few decades, another issue has been gaining significance: Who gets the pet?

Dogs, cats, ferrets, and a host of other animals have become family members in many American households. Deciding where Fluffy or Duke lives has become a source of contention in New Jersey divorces.

Some states have passed pet custody laws. New Jersey is not one of them; however, court rulings have shown that the judicial trend is to recognize that pets are more than chattel.

At Lane & Lane, LLC, we understand the importance of furry friends. We’ll give their well-being the attention they deserve.

Pet Custody Cases on the Rise

A 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey shows that more divorce cases include resolving pet custody. Almost 30% of respondents said they were seeing a rise in pet custody disputes with dogs being the most-disputed family pet (88%). The survey also showed that more courts were considering issues around which spouse would keep a pet.

Americans love their pets. Pets today are far more than possessions. Almost 70% of U.S. households have at least one pet, making the pet industry in this country expected to reach close to $109 billion this year. Spending has more than doubled in the last 19 years.

Determining Pet Custody

Alaska, Illinois, and California have laws that guide pet custody decisions.

Alaska in 2016 was the first to pass statutes requiring courts to utilize a “best interests” or well-being standard for a companion animal in divorce proceedings. Sole or joint custody can be awarded. The law also includes animals as protected parties in domestic violence restraining orders. The following year, Illinois passed a similar law. In 2019, California also enabled courts to issue sole or shared custody agreements.

New Jersey has not established a pet custody law, but the court can consider several factors including which party has the stronger attachment. Judges are increasingly recognizing the emotional and sentimental value of companion animals.

Pets are discussed during asset and property division, yet they aren’t viewed like furniture by the court. Judges will hear testimony about who provides the bulk of nurturing and care for the animal and whether one of the spouses owned the animal prior to the marriage.

Negotiating Pet Custody

Most New Jersey divorces do not end up in litigation. Couples resolve their differences through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method, such as mediation. A neutral mediator helps both sides find common ground. In areas of disagreement, this professional aims to help the former couple come to compromises. A “parenting plan’ for their pets can be settled through mediation.

A pet parenting plan can include the following:

  • Naming the primary caregiver
  • Scheduling visitation for the other person
  • Creating a savings account for pet expenses
  • Agreeing to follow the same feeding schedules and other routines

When you choose to share custody, the pet’s welfare should be a priority.

Legal Guidance for Your Divorce

Everything can be an argument in a contentious divorce, including who keeps the family pet. Lane & Lane, LLC can explore your options to best make the case to keep your beloved companion.

To schedule a consultation, contact us online or via phone at (908) 259-6673.