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Divorce and pets

New Jersey residents who are going through a divorce know how hard the process can be. Emotions are high and many times there is a dispute about any number of issues, some big and some small. One thing that many couples do not think about what spouse will get possession of a family pet after the divorce.

According to the Humane Society over 62% of households own at least one pet. Pets are often thought of as members of the family so when a divorce situation arises, who gets the pet may become a topic of dispute. Pets, in the eye of the law, are considered property and can be part of the property division process. They can be included a prenuptial agreement or if the pet was acquired by one of the spouses before the marriage then it may be more clear who gets to keep the pet. When the pet was acquired during the marriage there are several factors that can help determine who takes the animal.

One important factor is who takes care of the pet, meaning , who feeds it, walks it, cleans up after it, takes it to the vet, etc. If it is clearly one person more than the other who takes responsibility, then such person should gather receipts from pet stores, statements from veterinarians, and neighbors, to show who is the animal's primary caregiver. The second factor is the determination of child custody, if any. Many times it is for the best that whomever has the kids also has the pets. A third factor may be who has the best lifestyle for pet ownership. If one of the spouses travels a lot for work or will be living in a difficult environment for a pet, pet then the other spouse may be the better option. Again, it's important to have ample documentation if one spouse is better suited to keeping the family pets.

Family pets are quite common and therefor will be an issue in many divorces. Consulting with a divorce attorney may help families or spouses determine the best options available. Family law attorneys help people work through a divorce with the best results possible so that they're able to come out on the other side and make a fresh start.

Divorce can affect so much more than just the two spouses involved. Children and pets also have a stake in how the settlement is determined. If one spouse is more interested in keeping the pets , he or she should document his or her status as the primary pet caregiver and how this care will continue after the divorce.

Source: Forbes, "How are pets handled in divorce?," Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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