What is your pet worth? The money used to buy it? The love and affection you receive from it? And who gets to keep the pet in the event of a divorce or breakup? The person who bought it? The person who cared for it? The person who loves it more?
Trends show that the answers to these questions are changing. While pets are still considered property in every state in the country, and while for the longest time courts have been divvying up pets like furniture or other non-living things, more and more judges are starting to see that pets may have sentimental meaning and that it is not just the monetary aspect of pets that count.
The main case in New Jersey that deals with pets during a break up is Houseman v. Dare, 405 N.J. Super 538 (App. Div. 2009). In that case, there was an engaged couple who jointly bought a dog for $1,500. Right after the break up, the woman took the dog to live with her, and she always expressed a desire to keep the dog herself. When the woman went on vacation, the man then took the dog back, and the women went to court to ask a judge to make the man return the dog back to her again. The trial judge treated the dog as if it were a piece of furniture. It said that the man could keep the dog, but that he had to pay the woman the $1,500 for the cost of what the couple had originally paid. The woman appealed. The upper court ruled that the trial judge was wrong when it considered only the money. Instead the trial judge also should have considered other factors, like the “special subjective benefits” that the owner gets from having the pet – meaning not just money, but also the emotional or other types of intangible benefits that come from pet ownership.
Contact Lyons & Associates
Since the Houseman case, pet custody is not as straight forward as it used to be. It is no longer just about the money. Hiring the right counsel is key. We at Lyons & Associates ask the important questions to make sure that pet custody issues are resolved fairly in your divorce or break up. If you or someone you know has questions about pet custody, contact one of the skilled attorneys at Lyons & Associates at 908-575-9777. You can also fill out our online intake form.