Is there such a thing as “Pet Custody” in New Jersey?
Although New Jersey does not have a specific statute on pet custody, judges are granted discretion to consider the animal’s welfare in granting custody
Pet Custody in New Jersey
There is no question pets are an invaluable asset in our lives. Pets are our companions, support, and even best friends. In the context of a divorce or separation the custody of pets can be hotly contested or a unifying moment. New Jersey does not have a specific statute on pet custody to guide the courts. However, judges are granted discretion to consider the animal’s welfare in granting custody of the pet.
Factors for Consideration
Courts may consider several factors when reviewing pet custody. Was the pet purchased prior to the relationship? If so, there may be very little legal remedies for the other party unless value was added to the pet. If the pet was acquired during the relationship some factors include who paid for the pet, who maintained vet care, who purchased supplies for the pet, or who provided and maintained training for the pet.
Another factor in awarding pet custody is involvement of children. Passaic County Judge Ernest M. Caposela was quoted in the Bergen Record as stating: “What’s in the best interest of the child may include custody of the pet.” A way to consider this is the court may award joint custody of the pet or consider awarding custody to the parent of primary residence.
A final factor for consideration is something with special subjective value. A 2009 Appellate Division case used such rationale for a woman seeking the return of her dog.
Houseman v. Dare
Doreen Houseman and Eric Dare were former boyfriend and girlfriend. In preparation for their future together the pair purchased a dog. The relationship between the parties deteriorated and Ms. Houseman assumed custody of the dog. Ms. Houseman went on vacation and left the dog with Mr. Dare with the agreement the dog would be returned to her. Upon her return, Mr. Dare did not release the dog to her. Ms. Doreen sought the return of the dog in trial court. While the trial court found Ms. Doreen to be credible, the court awarded her the value of the dog instead of custody. Ms. Doreen appealed.
In Houseman v. Dare, the Appellate Division held the oral agreement between Ms. Houseman and Mr. Dare concerning their dog was subject to the oral agreement. The decision was remanded to the trial court where Ms. Houseman was awarded custody of the dog.
While New Jersey does not have a statue regarding pet custody there are ways to ensure a pleasant transition for pet parents during separation or divorce. Some considerations include pet prenups, pet custody agreements, and mediation or arbitration for pet disputes.