Who Gets to Keep the Dog in a Divorce?

A couple’s house, car, and financial assets are all things that will need to be divided in a divorce. Property rights and child custody are factors to be expected in the legal proceedings of a divorce, but what happens to a couple’s pets when they separate?

Although you may see your dog as a member of the family, the law does not. In almost all states, including New Jersey, pets are considered property. While parting with the old lawnmower in the garage may be no big deal, giving up your beloved pet at the request of the judge will likely be much more difficult. So, how can you maintain custody of your pet?

Pet Custody

Simply put, there is no such thing as pet custody. Pets are considered property, and the unfortunate truth is that many judges are not considering the pet’s best interest in the division of the spouses’ assets. If a couple can agree on a custodial schedule for a pet before a divorce goes to court, they could prevent the ownership of the pet from falling into the hands of a judge. However, if a couple is unable to agree on the division of assets out of court, the fate of a pet will be up to the court.

“Co-Parenting” Pets

If a couple is able to negotiate the terms of their divorce without taking the dispute to court, there are a number of ways that pet ownership can be navigated. A divorced couple can share “custody” of the pet, switching the pet between homes every week or month. If it makes more sense to keep the pet in one home, one partner could have scheduled visits while one remains the primary caretaker. If there are children involved in the divorce, another option is for the pet to go wherever the children go for visitation.

Co-owners will also want to consider how they will split expenses like vet bills and food. Determining the intricacies of the “co-parenting” plan can help keep the divorce smooth, preventing any future disagreements by ironing out the details ahead of time. 

Sole Ownership of Pets

If owners are unable to agree about what is best for a pet in a divorce, one party may end up needing to persuade the judge that they are best suited to care for the animal. To do this, the individual will need evidence that the pet is better off with them, which may include:

  • Papers that prove ownership/adoption of the pet
  • Vet or pet store receipts that show that one partner primarily cared for the pet
  • Evidence that the individual will be able to provide a home for the pet after divorce
  • Evidence that one’s work schedule will allow enough time and flexibility to care for the pet

These pieces of evidence can be used to show the judge why one party is better suited to have sole ownership of a pet after divorce.

Pet Ownership and Divorce

Divorce is a stressful experience for people, but it is important to keep in mind the toll that it can also take on your animals as well. Your pet may be losing one of their owners, moving homes, and even feeling the stress of conflict in your home. Prioritizing the well-being of your pet during your divorce can help ease the disruption of their routine, ensuring that they stay happy and healthy as you work through your divorce. Where a pet ends up going may also deeply affect children in a divorce.

Whether you have started the divorce process or are just considering your options, having an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer on your side can help ease the stress of the separation process. A dedicated attorney can ensure that a fair custody plan is created and that all property, including pets, is distributed fairly. Contact a member of our team today to schedule a consultation.


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