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How Are Pets Handled in a New Jersey Divorce?

February 5, 2021 | Posted In Family Law

When going through a divorce, spouses in New Jersey must divide their marital assets, discuss post-divorce financial support, and set up a post-divorce parenting plan if they have children. But what if they also have pets? What happens to pets in a New Jersey divorce, and what can you do to make sure you will be able to continue living with your pet (or pets) after your marriage is over?

Pets Are Considered a Form of Property for Divorce Purposes in New Jersey

Although most pet owners consider their pets to be family, by law, pets are considered property in New Jersey. As a result, during the divorce process, pets are subject to the rule of “equitable distribution,” just like other forms of property.

Under New Jersey law, the general rule is that property obtained during a marriage is subject to equitable distribution, while property obtained before the marriage is not. As a result, the simplest scenario is when one spouse brings a pet into the marriage. When this is the case, the spouse who owned the pet prior to the marriage is usually entitled to keep the pet after the divorce.

But, what about the more common scenario in which spouses welcome a pet into their home during their marriage? When spouses jointly purchase or receive a pet, they must figure out what to do about their pet in their divorce. In most cases, this means agreeing that the pet will live in one (former) spouse’s home. If a couple has multiple pets, they may decide that each spouse will keep one or more pets post-divorce.

There are, however, other options. For example, it is becoming increasingly common for divorcing spouses to use “pet custody” agreements. When both spouses wish to maintain a relationship with a pet, entering into one of these agreements allows them to do so. A pet custody agreement can be similar to a child custody agreement or parenting plan, and spouses can develop terms and conditions that are agreeable for both of them and work with the other terms of their divorce.

For example, a pet custody agreement may deal with any or all of the following:

  • Where the pet will live each day of the week
  • Who will be responsible for pet-related costs
  • Who will be responsible for taking the pet to the vet for routine care
  • How the parties will make important pet-related decisions
  • How the parties will handle pet-related emergencies

In some cases, it may make sense for a pet custody schedule to mirror divorcing spouses’ parenting time arrangements. This allows the couple’s children to stay with their pets at all times, and it can provide important continuity and stability post-divorce. However, this is just one option. When addressing pet ownership during the divorce process, spouses need to consider all of the various options available carefully.

Discuss the Terms of Your Divorce with an Experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney

If you would like more information about divorcing spouses’ options regarding pet ownership, we encourage you to get in touch. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced New Jersey family law attorneys, please call 877-435-6371 or inquire online today.

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