We sure love our pets! These days, they are more like a family member than just an animal. We provide care for them, take them wherever we go, dress them, and make choices on things like where we live based on whether or not there is ample inside and outside space for our furry friends. So, when a divorce situation happens, there can be a heated battle over which party gets custody of the pet.
Let’s first look at how the law sees pets in a divorce proceeding. Although we consider them an integral part of our family, the law considers them personal property – much like furniture or other possessions. There is no custody or parenting type agreement that the court will require the parties to enter into and follow. The pet will either be awarded to one of the parties, or given as a possession shared by the parties. In making a determination of which individual will receive the pet, the court will consider which party spent the most time with the pet during the marriage and provided the necessary care to the pet. If there are children, the children’s primary residence after the divorce might be considered so that the pet remains with them.
With this in mind, how can a pet custody dispute be managed? As with all aspects of a divorce, it is helpful if both parties act in a cordial, respectful manner. It is ideal if an agreement can be reached as to the pet’s placement. However, that is not always the situation. It might be helpful to contact a divorce mediation lawyer. A mediation lawyer assists the parties in reaching a mutually agreeable solution to what might seem like an impossible dispute. Both sides present their information and desires to the mediator. The mediator reviews the two positions, asks questions and offers unbiased options for the parties to consider. These solutions are either accepted or rejected by the parties. Although it is not always the end of the dispute, often talking through the options with an objective third party helps aid in a resolution.
If you are a pet owner that is facing divorce, there are several things to keep in mind. First, think of how this divorce is going to impact your pet. Your pet has probably become comfortable with its living situation and whatever change is made will have an effect on it. It is very important to keep your pet’s best interest in mind. Second, if there are children involved, a pet may help keep their lives a little more stable during this huge transition. Carefully consider removing the pet from their primary home. Lastly, do not try to use your pet to “get back” or “punish” your spouse. That is unfair to your pet (and spouse) and could result in mistreatment of the pet for spite.
As will all matters involved in divorce, it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney in New Jersey to discuss all of your options.