At its most basic, a divorce is nothing but the dissolution of a contract. Where a marriage once existed, it no longer stands. There are steps that need to be followed in the process of breaking the contract: assets need to be distributed equitably, decisions need to be made about any real estate or businesses that the couple owns together, and if there are children involved then the couple will need to determine issues of custody. Every marriage is different and has different elements that represent issues that have different levels of emotional attachment. Though most people assume that there is nothing more heart-wrenching than making decisions about who will have custody of the couple’s children, there is an increasing number of cases where there is an equivalent amount of anxiety surrounding pet custody.

At one time, New Jersey divorce courts refused to get involved in decisions about pet custody. Decisions needed to be made about a pet in the same way that the couple made their decision about who would get a couch or a bedroom set. But in recent years, as pets have begun to be identified more and more as members of the family, divorce mediators and judges are allowing themselves to get engaged in these decisions and in deciding pet-related disputes.

Though you can’t equate a pet custody decision with the process involved in determining child custody, there are certain elements that are taken into consideration in a similar way. Dogs, cats and other pets are not viewed as holding “subjective value” that is different from other property, and that value demands that emotional impact of where the pet will live be considered. There are not shared custody agreements written up by the courts: instead, the judge will look at who has the closest relationship with the animal and who has provided most of its maintenance and care. If there are children in the family, the judge will frequently opt for allowing the animal to go to the same home where the children live, based on the theory that children will do better if the family pet stays with them.

If you are about to embark on a divorce and fear the loss of a beloved pet to your spouse, you need a compassionate attorney who can fight for your rights. Contact us today to set up an appointment to discuss your case.

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