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How New Jersey Courts Deal With Pets in Divorce Cases

State of New Jersey Law Regarding Pets in Divorce

Many, many people might cringe when the read the next sentence. New Jersey courts consider pets in divorce property. Technically speaking, despite being considered family members by their “owners,” pets are akin to tables and chairs in New Jersey divorce cases.

With the technical state of the law duly noted, the reality is that there can be some variation between how pets in a marriage dissolution case are treated from one judge to another. This reality underscores the importance of engaging the service of an experienced New Jersey divorce lawyer. Not only when it comes to matters surrounding pets, a New Jersey divorce attorney typically has experience with a particular judge. As a consequence, legal counsel is able to better advise a client on how to proceed in regard to different matters in a marriage dissolution case. A person representing his or her self does not enjoy this important (even crucial) benefit.

Because pets technically are considered property in a divorce case in New Jersey, if the parties cannot decide on how pets are to be handled in the case, a judge will do so for them. According to existing divorce law, a judge needs to consider who will obtain “possession” of a pet or pets based on the equitable division of property standard. The law does not provide for pet custody or pet visitation.

Many states have already adopted special laws addressing the unique status pets have in the lives of most people. In other words, other jurisdictions have adopted statutes that provide for what fairly can be called pet custody and pet visitation.

Divorce Mediation and Pets in Divorce

Mediation is becoming more widely used in New Jersey divorce cases. Mediation is a voluntary process through which an experienced, trained mediator assists a divorcing couple in making decisions pertaining to a marriage dissolution case. Examples of areas in which mediation is becoming more widely utilized in New Jersey marriage dissolution proceedings include:

  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Asset and debt division
  • Matters associated with pets

The bottom line is that if a divorcing couple are having issues reaching agreement on certain matters, including issues associated with pets, mediation might be a useful course of action. While a mediator does not make decisions for a divorcing couple, that professional does provide support and guidance to aid a couple in resolving issues, including those surrounding pets, if that is necessary.

If an agreement is reached through this alternative dispute resolution process, the mediator prepares a mediation agreement, which the parties approve and which is then provided to the court for approval. A judge usually approves a mediation agreement, making it a part of a divorce decree.

Divorce Settlement Agreements and Pets

The fact that a court technically must treat pets in divorce as property does not prevent a divorcing couple from negotiating their own agreement in regard to what will happen in regard to pets after a marriage officially ends. For example, divorcing spouses can develop a settlement agreement that sets forth a specific plan in regard to what will happen with pets acquired during the marriage.

For example, a settlement agreement can include provisions in regard to where pets primarily reside. A settlement agreement can also include elements that address what might be called “pet visitation” or the identification of time in which the other parent will have pets at his or her home.

More often than not, a divorce court approves the agreement parties reach in a settlement agreement. Unless a couple comes up with something that is illegal or completely off the proverbial rails, a judge is likely to improve a settlement agreement provision and include it in a divorce decree.

If you are heading to divorce, whether or not you have pets, you best protect your valuable legal rights and interests by retaining the services of an experienced, dedicated New Jersey marriage dissolution lawyer. You can schedule an appointment with a capable, committed divorce attorney by contacting the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at your convenience.

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