We’ve all heard the story about the rich person who left millions of dollars to their pet chihuahua. We know of people who dote on their dogs as if they were children. We might even own a dog or two (myself included). When people get divorced, it is understood they will most likely need to split their assets. In NJ, the default legally for couples when splitting is joint custody of their children. The standard in determining child custody beyond that is the “best interest” of the child. But what happens with the family dog?
Washington DC is currently in the process of considering a bill that would create a custody like situation of pets that come out of divorce treating them similarly to children and looking out for the “best interest” of the pet rather than determining ownership of the pet based on who paid for the pet and who financial takes care of it (which is the standard in many states). In New Jersey, pets are considered property. This means their needs are not taken into consideration when dividing assets for divorce. It could mean that dogs go to the wrong person.
It also means that courts likely will not view your pet in the same way that you do. In New Jersey, property that is acquired during the marriage is considered “subject to equitable distribution”, basically meaning that it is divided based on what is fair. Obviously, you cannot divide a pet. You could divide the value of the pet – i.e., the spouse keeping the pet pays half of the value to the other spouse. But this is often forgotten, much in the same way that whoever has the living room set at the time of the divorce often just keeps it, as with most other personal property. Certainly, this is an unsatisfying result for pet lovers. And to add this issue is the relationship between any children and the dog. For dog lovers, there needs to be a much better plan of action than what one may have for other tangible property.
Concerned your pet may not be yours after you finalize your divorce? Contact Jennifer Levy and Daniel Levy divorce attorneys and pet owners who prioritize your concerns and can help you. Call today at (973) 742-1917 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation appointment. Don’t let your dog get taken from you.