When a couple gets divorced, pet ownership is often one of the most hotly contested issues. Sadly, one partner might use the family pet as a bargaining chip for leverage and to manipulate their soon-to-be-ex spouse.
In New Jersey, pets are currently treated as property during a divorce. But there are ways to draft a “custody” agreement with your spouse regarding your pet.
Many people fail to consider that pets have feelings and can react to the stress of their “parents” divorcing. Dogs and cats are known to become anxious during a divorce, and may undergo a period of adjustment as they get used to one of their pet-parents no longer being around. They will not understand why their former co-owner has left them.
Some signs of distress displayed by pets can include lethargy, loss of appetite, loss of interest in walks or other previously enjoyed activities, frequent crying or whimpering, excessive grooming, or bathroom accidents.
You, Your Spouse, and Pet Custody Considerations
In New Jersey, the court will consider your pet property, but will also entertain or order a pet custody agreement as part of the divorce. If the pet was owned by your partner prior to the marriage, the court will take that into consideration. Even if you were the one responsible for caring for the pet during the marriage, if it was your spouse’s prior to getting married, the court may award them full custody of the pet.
The court will also consider who pays for the pet’s medical expenses, or who can afford to pay for proper care, and who has more time to devote to caring for the animal. The court will also consider whether there are any children, and which parent has custody of the children.
If a child has a special affection for their pet, the court will be unlikely to split them up. In most cases, whichever parent gets custody of the children gets custody of the family pet as well.
Joint Agreements Regarding Pets
It is helpful if you and your spouse can agree on issues relating to the pet, so that you do not risk putting the decision in the hands of a judge. Courts are unlikely to reject a joint-agreement relating to a pet. These written agreements should be as detailed as possible, to avoid disputes down the road.
An experienced Somerville family law lawyer can help you craft a binding pet custody agreement. This document should not only address who has custody of the pets, but also who is responsible for paying for food, veterinary bills, flea and tick treatments, pet sitting, boarding and kennel services, the cost of a dog walker if necessary, and identify who is responsible for making medical decisions regarding the pet.
A well-drafted pet parenting agreement can save you money down the road, because a detailed agreement will prevent the need for lawyers to become involved later.
Somerville Family Law Lawyers at Lyons & Associates Represent Pet Parents and Understand Your Bond with Your Pet
If you have a pet and are facing divorce, you probably have many questions. To learn more, call one of our experienced Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates today at 908-575-9777, or by filling out our online contact form. We serve clients across New Jersey, including Somerville, Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, Morris Plains and Somerset County, and Morris County.