In New Jersey, as in many other states, pets, including dogs, are considered property in the context of divorce proceedings. While the legal system does not view pets in the same way as children, there has been a growing recognition of the emotional significance of pets to families. Here are some considerations regarding the treatment of pets in divorce in New Jersey:
- Ownership as Property: Family pets are considered personal property in New Jersey. As “property”, pets are subject to equitable distribution, which means their ownership will be negotiated as part of the larger property divisions.
- Negotiation and Agreement: Unlike child custody, there are no legal provisions for “pet custody” in the traditional sense. However, divorcing couples can negotiate and come to an agreement on the ownership and care of their pets. If an agreement is reached, the court will generally honor it, provided it is not against public policy. In some instances, if the parties have children, it may be in your family’s best interest to mirror the pet custody plan to the child custody agreement. This would allow the children to stay with the pet at all times.
- Factors Considered by the Court: Unlike matters involving children, there is no “best interest” standard for pets. However, if spouses cannot agree on the ownership of the pet, the court may consider factors such as who primarily cared for the pet, who has the financial means to provide for the pet’s needs, and who is in the best position to handle the caregiving responsibilities.
- Consideration of Pre or Postnuptial Agreements: If the couple has a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that addresses the ownership or care of pets, the court is likely to enforce the terms of that agreement.
- Best Interests of the Pet: While not a legal standard, some courts may consider the attachment of the pet to a particular family member and the ability of each spouse to provide a suitable environment for the pet.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution: Couples may choose alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, which would allow the couple more flexibility in determining a custody agreement for the pet. During mediation the parties are able to create a personalized solution, including time sharing and financial support, that the court may not consider.
- Recent Legislative Changes: It’s worth noting that some states have introduced legislation that allows courts to consider the well-being of pets in divorce cases. While New Jersey case law has established an animal as a “sentimental, priceless piece of property”, it has not enacted such legislation.
In conclusion, while pets are still considered property in New Jersey divorce cases, we understand that your pet is more than that. If you are fighting for custody of your pet or you want to negotiate a custody arrangement, we can help. At the Law Offices of Sylvia Costantino, Esq., LLC, we will collaborate with you to find a suitable solution that will meet the needs of your family – pets included.