In most families, having a pet means having another member of the family. This may be especially true with dogs. Couples who have dogs may plan their schedules, vacations and real estate purchases around the needs of their pet, and some may even opt to raise a dog instead of having children. Unfortunately, when it comes to divorce, dogs do not receive the same legal consideration as children do.
New Jersey and most other states see dogs as property, and their status in a divorce is often based on monetary value. This can be painful for a spouse who obtains comfort and companionship from a pet. In fact, some ex-partners may use that special bond to inflict suffering on a former spouse by fighting to obtain the pet during property division.
Options when custody isn’t an option
Ideally, both pet parents can reach an understanding about what is in the best interests of the pet. This may include a written agreement about sharing custody that includes as much detail as possible, such as whether one partner can take the dog out of state and how the pet parents will resolve future conflicts. However, if one spouse intends to use the dog for revenge against the other, it may be wise to obtain legal representation.
Although New Jersey does not have laws that require family court judges to treat dogs like children during breakups, more courts are considering the best interests of the pet. Until then, pet parents may have to find creative ways to achieve their goals for their dogs during property division. In many cases, it may take solid legal experience and skillful negotiation.