Carolann M. Aschoff, P.C.

Negotiating pet custody during divorce

Many New Jersey couples treat their pets as part of the family, which may lead to complications during a divorce. When a couple decides to split up, it may not be clear who should get custody of the pets. While the letter of the law may view a pet as property in terms of asset division, the reality of the situation may be more like a child custody battle in terms of the emotions involved.

FindLaw states that New Jersey is not a "community property" state. This means that when a court decides on divorce terms, the goal is to split assets equitably, rather than to divide everything exactly in half (as would happen in a community property state). For most property, such as furniture and real estate, a court may focus mostly on its financial worth.

Determining who gets to keep pets may require a court to consider additional information along with a pet's monetary value. Psychology Today states that many people view their pets, especially dogs and cats, as family members. As such, deciding who gets custody of the pets may be a source of intense conflict, not unlike that which occurs in child custody negotiations. Each spouse in a divorce may experience significant emotional attachment to a pet and may be unwilling to give it up. In fact, Psychology Today cites research indicating that nearly 40% of dog owners did not want to part with their pets during a divorce.

In many cases, a court may have to consider additional factors, such as which spouse has the financial resources to provide the best home for the animal. Some divorce agreements may even include visitation rights and other arrangements to make the situation as fair as possible for both the people and the animals involved.

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