Given how much people across the country love their pets, it may not come as a surprise to many that 51% of Americans are cat owners and 75% are dog owners. One often hears stories of how thousands of dollars are spent in every household for pet food, medicines, medical treatments, photographs and clothing/accessories. When the affection and expense is coming from a single household, there is little disagreement over who pays for all this. But what happens when a couple divorces—how are pets treated in a divorce?
For those who love and value their pets as they do their own children, the answer is simple—pet custody should be a custodial issue along the lines of child custody. Unfortunately, courts have not yet evolved to this extent yet and most courts treat pets like property and therefore make division decisions along the lines of how one would a vehicle or family piano. However, New Jersey is among the few states that has begun to recognize the importance of family pets to change its approach.
Recognizing that pets hold a special place in the family’s heart, courts have begun to turn away from monetary resolutions. This means courts no longer expect one party to reimburse the other the monetary value of the dog in property division decisions during a divorce. It shows courts are willing to look at who actually has an honest interest in keeping the pet and who may be trying to use the pet as a way to elongate the divorce process.
As with other family law issues, to determine who has a sincere interest in the pet, courts can look at testimony and other evidence from the parties. It can also look at who had ownership of the animal before the marriage. So far however, courts do not look at the best interest of the pet.
Pets are more like family members than property and separation from them during a divorce, especially when everything else is changing. If the divorcing couple can come to an arrangement themselves on how they want to split ownership of a beloved furry animal, it is usually upheld by the court. An experienced attorney can help parties negotiate the best way forward for them or discuss other options, such as proving one’s stance in court.