What happens to your pets when you divorce in New Jersey?

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

Those with pets they love often refer to their animals as their “fur babies.” Even those with human children develop intense attachments to the animals in their family. Those bonds could be at risk during a divorce.

You probably already know that the New Jersey courts typically prefer that parents share custody of children in a divorce. You may find yourself wondering if a shared custody arrangement might also be possible for the animals you and your spouse have shared.

New Jersey has historically treated pets like property

For many years, the approach to pets in a divorce was to assign them a financial value and then award them to one spouse as part of the property division process if both spouses wanted to keep the animal in question. However, that changed here in New Jersey with an appeals court ruling that shifted the approach to contested companion animals in a divorce.

The courts can consider the animal as more than property now

In a 2009 ruling, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that companion animals have value far beyond their financial worth. In fact, the ruling paved the way for New Jersey family law judges to use the best interests of the animal as the guiding consideration for decisions about who keeps an animal in a divorce.

This is the same standard used for custody decisions. However, it is worth noting that shared custody is still unlikely unless the couple divorcing sets their own terms prior to filing the divorce. Protecting your relationship with a pet may still require careful planning if you intend to divorce. Your family law attorney can help you.

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