The Dog Is Mine? Or Is It?

Relationships, including marriages, sometimes fall apart in an epic manner. Ending your relationship can cause a significant emotional and financial toll, and if either or both of the parties exhibit revenge, the resolution of disputed issues can result in contentious, protracted litigation.

Among pet owners, the issue concerning who gets ownership of their pet is often hotly contested. Do not assume because you are the one who takes the dog for a walk to the nearby park and prepares the dog’s daily meals that you are the party who will automatically receive custody of your pet. Although most state courts, including New Jersey, still characterize pets as property, pet guardians consider their pets to be equivalent to their children – both priceless and irreplaceable. Unfortunately, pets are treated exactly like televisions, furniture and cars. An exception may exist for a party who can properly claim that the pet’s legal status must be revised because the pet is an emotional support animal for one party.

If parties cannot agree on a custodial schedule for their pet in discussions concerning the division of their assets and debts, the custody of a pet to one of the parties can become a significant issue in the finalization of the terms to be included in a Marital Settlement Agreement.

Many parties do not learn the importance of entering into a Prenuptial Agreement until they are in the midst of their divorce. A Prenuptial Agreement addresses specific property and financial issues in the event of a termination of a marriage. Pet custody disputes between parties when the relationship dissolves may be avoided by entering into a Pet-Nuptial, which is negotiated and entered into by the parties at the beginning of their relationship. A court will likely enforce the terms of an Agreement if properly prepared and entered into by the parties.

The experienced family law attorneys and mediators at Cohn Lifland can assist you in exploring available options and in reaching a resolution.