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New Jersey Divorce And Pet Custody

No family that has ever owned a dog or cat has considered that family pet property. Dogs and cats, birds and fish, common family pets, are not property, but prized family members and highly valued. So, what happens to these pets when a couple decides to divorce? Until recently, New Jersey law considered pets to be property and they were assigned to one of the divorcing spouses, much the same way the curtains, couches and TV's were assigned. However, an increase in issues regarding pet custody and complaints from the ASPCA and Humane Society that animals are not property and should not be treated as such, have led to this law being re-examined.

Heard By The New Jersey Courts

dog with bone

In 2009, the New Jersey Court of Appeals heard a case regarding pet custody. A couple who had ended their lengthy relationship had agreed to share their pet dog. However, the man eventually refused to continue this arrangement. The woman sued in order to get their informal dog custody agreement validated by the court. The initial judge ruled that the dog was personal property. The man was granted ownership and was ordered to give monetary compensation to the woman.

However, she was not seeking money, but the continued companionship of her beloved pet. She filed an appeal which stated that the value of a pet is subjective and cannot be assigned a price. The NJ Court of Appeals agreed and felt that pet owners establish a strong attachment to their pets and therefore, pets should be valued much like heirlooms are valued. In New Jersey, judges can hear arguments during divorce proceedings which state that pets are unique property that cannot be compensated for. The judge can order a shared possession agreement, or what is commonly termed “pet custody”.

What Happens To My Pet In A New Jersey Divorce?

Bruce the best dog ever

New Jersey Courts will consider several factors before creating a pet custody agreement for divorcing couples. If the pet was owned by one of the parties before the relationship began, that is taken into careful consideration. Also considered is which party is responsible for the daily care of the pet; ie: feeding, walking, trips to the vet, etc. The court will inquire as to which spouse pays for the food and medical expenses for the pet and which spouse will have the better ability to continue the care and upkeep of the pet once the divorce is final.

Perhaps the factor that most strongly determines pet custody arrangements are children. If a child or children have a special fondness or attachment to the pet, the judge will consider who has primary custody of the child or children. In most instances, whichever spouse has custody of the children also retains primary custody of the household pet. The visitation schedule can be set up so that when the other spouse sees the children, he or she can see the pet as well. It is rare that a court or judge will take away a pet from a child or children who are in the midst of their parents divorce.

Courts recognition of pets as more than personal property is a fairly recent development. But it is likely to grow more common in the future. If you have questions about pet custody or any other issues in divorce or separation, contact an experienced divorce attorney in your area.

Contact Villani & DeLuca, P.C. About Pet Custody In A New Jersey Divorce

Although it is a fairly recent practice to consider pets as more than property, it may occur with more and more frequency as years go on. Our law firm can provide you with advice regarding pet custody and how visitation may be structured. We can offer you assistance as you navigate this process.


The law offices of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. serves the regions of Monmouth and Ocean County and an experienced attorney can guide you toward the best solution for your pet custody. Call us today at 732-965-3404.

Vincent DeLuca, Esq.

As a founding partner at Villani & DeLuca, Vincent DeLuca is one of only a few Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney in Ocean County, New Jersey. Mr. DeLuca has helped many clients navigate the delicate details of their own divorce. Mr. DeLuca is also a trained divorce mediator and collaborative divorce attorney. Call today at (732) 965-3404 to speak to Mr. DeLuca or one of our experienced NJ Divorce Lawyers.

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