In a recent divorce case in which Salvaggio Law Group was involved, the husband initially took the position that he should receive “custody” of the parties’ dog, even though the couple’s child was living with his wife.
In the end, the husband agreed to allow the dog to remain at the house where the wife and child resided, but insisted that he have the right to have the dog accompany the parties’ child on all visitations with him.
The Asbury Park Press reports that a growing number of divorces involve pet “custody” issues.
A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that 25% of the respondents noticed an increase in cases involving pets. Ken Altshuler, President of AAML, observed that “Judges are viewing them more akin to children than dining room sets. They are recognizing that people have an emotional attachment to their animals.”
Mr. Altshuler anticipates that pet-related issues will continue to grow in the field of family law. He believes courts will eventually develop guidelines for pets, similar to the ones currently used for children in divorce cases.
Some States are amending their laws to grant protection to pets under domestic violence restraining orders. The reasoning behind such laws is that abusers can use pets as another way to threaten their victims. Mr. Altshuler predicts that this trend will continue to grow.
New Jersey divorce courts, however, still classify pets as “property.” In the 2009 case of Houseman v. Dare, the New Jersey appellate court noted that pets can be distinguished from other forms of property, because they have a “unique sentimental value,”
The Houseman Court concluded that a divorcing couple’s agreement about sharing time with a pet can be enforced, even though it refused to adopt the same “best interests” standard which is used to determine child custody.
Three of the many factors which a court could take into consideration in deciding the issue of which spouse will retain possession of the pet after a divorce might include: (1) who spent the most time with the pet; (2) which parent will have primary custody of any children; and (3) who took care of the pet’s basic needs.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters, and we are certainly sensitive to issues involving pets.
If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.