How is Pet Custody Determined in New Jersey?

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family and pet dog

Divorce can be a long and grueling process. When two people’s lives are so intertwined, deciding to end the relationship and divide your lives can be complex. Many factors need to be considered when going through a divorce. Who will get what assets? Who will get custody of the children? Will one spouse pay alimony to the other? A major issue during a divorce that may not immediately come to mind is who will receive custody of the family pet or pets.

While many consider their pet to be a part of the family, New Jersey state law considers domestic animals property. This means that ownership of the pet is subject to the division of assets, like a car or piece of furniture. However, it is possible to come up with a legally enforceable pet custody plan and include it in your divorce agreement. For more information and advice about your pet custody plan, reach out to a Suffolk County property distribution lawyer for help.

What is a Pet Custody Plan?

A pet custody plan, also known as a pet parenting plan, is largely similar to a child custody arrangement. A pet custody plan will detail who gets custody over the animal, who is responsible for them financially, and any visitation rights that the other spouse may have. Because a New Jersey judge will likely not address custody or support for a pet, you may have to take matters into your own hands.

Some couples may decide to include a pet clause in their prenuptial agreement that dictates which spouse will receive ownership of the family pets in the event of a divorce. If the couple did not have that foresight, they can seek assistance in drafting a custody plan outside of the court.

Mediation is a great way for couples to sit down and discuss their desires for custody. They will be able to create a flexible and personalized schedule or solution and have it signed and notarized. If you do this outside of court you can enter the signed document into your divorce agreement. Your agreement should touch upon certain topics like who will be the primary owner, what visitation will look like, who will pay for veterinary care, what the pet’s feeding schedule will be, etc.

What Factors Are Considered When Drafting the Plan?

You and your spouse will have free reign to create your pet custody plan during mediation, so how you make those decisions is completely up to you. However, in general, they are formulated with certain characteristics of a child custody agreement and certain characteristics of the division of assets. The following are some factors that should be considered when drafting a pet custody agreement.

  • If the pet was obtained by one spouse before the marriage
  • If the pet was obtained by both spouses during the marriage
  • Who was the primary caregiver
  • Which household has the space or yard to provide the pet with adequate living space
  • If any children are involved, which spouse has custody of them

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