While the “best interest of the pet” is not a legal standard in New Jersey, some divorce proceedings involve pet disputes that bear a similarity to child custody cases. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that there has been an increase in the number of pet disputes that are involved in divorce cases over the last few years.
The typical approach of a court is to treat a pet like a piece of personal property when dealing with property division determinations. However, many judges own their own pets and may realize the emotional connection that exists between beloved pets and their owners. Therefore, the court may weigh various factors in determining which spouse should wind up with the dog or cat. For example, it may consider the work schedules of the two parties. In some cases, a husband may work from home while his wife has a demanding job that calls her in during odd hours. This type of situation may imply that the animal would have a more consistent schedule with the at-home spouse.
Another consideration that is similar to child custody cases is determining which party has been the primary caregiver. The court may look into factors such as who feeds the family dog, who bathes it and who takes it to the vet when it is sick. In cases where ownership is not clear, these factors can help support the argument that one spouse has assumed most of the care-taking roles.
Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, while an even higher percentage of American households have a pet. It is thus not unusual for a family law attorney to include a discussion of the family dog or cat during divorce settlement negotiations.
Source: Forbes, “How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?“, Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014