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Who Gets the Pets After a Divorce?

Cute Miniature schnauzer dog reads a book in the classroom

Divorce or the end of a partnership can be emotionally challenging for all parties involved. One of the most difficult questions that arises is one that might not be foremost on your mind at the time of the breakup, but one that affects you and your loved ones significantly: What happens to the family pet when the family splits up? If you’re facing a separation and wondering what will happen to your beloved furry family members, read on for a discussion about how New Jersey law handles pet custody in a divorce. For help with a divorce, custody dispute, or related matters in Union, Middlesex, or Essex County, contact the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro to share your concerns with an experienced and compassionate Union family law attorney.

How New Jersey Law Treats Pets in a Divorce

Traditionally, pets have been considered “property” under New Jersey law, and their custody would often be determined using the same standards used for the division of marital property. This means that, unlike child custody cases that prioritize the best interests of the child, the primary consideration for pet custody is who holds legal ownership.

However, the conversation surrounding pets and divorce is evolving, and New Jersey courts are increasingly recognizing the emotional bond between pets and their owners. Some judges are open to considering factors such as who is the primary caregiver, who has the financial means to care for the pet, and the pet’s overall well-being. Yet, it is crucial to note that this is not mandated by New Jersey law, and practices can differ between judges and counties.

Proving Ownership

Documentation can play a crucial role in pet custody disputes during a divorce. Registration papers, vet bills, and microchip information can serve as proof of ownership. It’s advisable to consult an experienced family law attorney to assess your particular case’s complexities.

What Happens to Pets in Unmarried Couples’ Breakups?

For unmarried couples who jointly own a pet and decide to part ways, New Jersey law still largely views pets as property. The focus is generally on establishing ownership. If the pet was acquired during the relationship, proving who primarily cared for the pet—through vet bills or other financial records—may tip the scale in favor of one party. Unless the couple commingled their finances, one of the partners in the relationship most likely purchased the animal, which would be strong evidence that the pet belongs to that individual post-breakup.

Co-Ownership Agreements

Unmarried couples may benefit from a “co-ownership agreement” that outlines each party’s rights and responsibilities concerning their pet. Although such agreements are not legally binding in the same way as a child custody arrangement, they can provide valuable guidance for courts when determining pet custody.

Tips for Navigating Pet Custody

Here are some tips for those navigating pet custody issues in New Jersey:

  1. Consult an Experienced Attorney: A knowledgeable family law attorney can guide you through the complexities of pet custody in New Jersey.

  2. Document Everything: Keep records of all pet-related expenses and care routines, as they may help prove ownership or primary caregiving responsibilities.

  3. Consider Mediation: Sometimes, an unbiased third party can help you and your former partner come to an agreement that prioritizes the well-being of the pet.

Help With Divorce and Custody Issues in New Jersey

While New Jersey law traditionally views pets as property, the emotional and practical aspects of pet ownership are gaining recognition in the legal arena. Both in the context of divorce and breakups among unmarried couples, understanding your rights and responsibilities is crucial. Turn to the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro for expert guidance on pet custody and other family law matters in Union, Middlesex, and Essex counties.

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