Pre-Pups and Pet Custody in New Jersey
In New Jersey, pets are no longer considered personal property when it comes to equitable distribution in divorce. Most pet lovers would agree that pets are family, not property, so it makes sense for pet valuation to be akin to custody. Parties are now drafting custodial agreements for pet custody similar to child custody and support orders. In many states, dogs are assigned a monetary value based on property valuation. The party seeking to retain the dog would indicate what monthly expenses and upkeep are for the pet in the financial statement. The court would also consider who brought the dog into the marriage and who cares for the dog on a daily basis. Now, some couples are seeking a “pre-pup” or prenuptial agreement that indicates who will retain custody of the pet if they should divorce or break-up. If you have questions about pet custody due to a divorce, contact our family law attorneys at Eveland & Foster.
“Best Interest of the Pet” Standard
Because pets are still considered property in many states, they are usually assigned a monetary value similar to real property or tangible personal property. This is inaccurate because pets have sentimental value and they are living animals with emotional attachment and feelings. Also because a pet cannot be replaced, it seems unfair to classify him or her as personal property. Because of this, some courts arbitrarily determine ownership of the pet without considering all relevant factors, such as who cares for the pet on a daily basis, who purchased or adopted the pet, or who has more of an affinity for the pet. In some jurisdictions, courts are now recognizing pet custody agreements, pet prenups, and pet “parenting plans.” As long as the parties can agree amicably about terms, courts are willing to incorporate these terms into final judgments.
What if Pet Custody is Disputed?
If you and your soon-to-be ex partner cannot decide who should care for the dog post-divorce, the courts are reluctant to get involved at the same level they would for a child. However, the court will determine who cares for the dog(or other pet) on a daily basis, takes the dog to veterinarian appointments, and who is most equipped to provide the dog with the love and care it requires in the future.
Although these cases are relatively new and may seem unorthodox, some judges in other jurisdictions are also granting visitation rights to the other party if they desire to see the dog after a divorce is final. Again, most jurisdictions do not recognize pets as anything more than personal property, but there have been a few cases in the United States in which judges have granted leniency and heard arguments regarding pet custody. Because these cases are so novel, it is important to hire a family law attorney you can trust. Our attorneys at Eveland & Foster understand the nuances of family law and can sympathize with pet parents regarding their pets’ welfare after divorce. If retained, we will do everything in our power to ensure you retain custody of your pet.
Call to Schedule a Consultation
If you are caught in a contentious divorce and are fighting over custody of the family pets, you do not have to settle with accepting the loss of your pet. You also do not have to agree to your ex-spouse taking the dog or cat that you owned and loved prior to entering into the relationship. New Jersey law now recognizes that pets are not tangible personal property, but family. Pets have intrinsic and sentimental value and cannot simply be replaced. If you need help arranging a pet pre-pup or with any other family law issues, contact our lawyers at Eveland & Foster. We are conveniently located in Morristown, New Jersey serving the needs of clients throughout the state. Schedule a consultation today.