woman holding pet dog

You’ve heard of a child custody arrangement, but have you ever wondered what happens to a family’s dog in the event of a divorce? One spouse may not particularly care and let the other spouse take full ownership of the animal. However, pets are an important part of any family. If you are going through a divorce and are concerned about what will happen to your animal, consider drafting a pet custody arrangement. Continue reading and speak with a Sparta property distribution attorney for more information on your rights as a pet parent.

How is a Pet Custody Arrangement Created?

Because New Jersey recognizes pets as property, a court will not create a custody arrangement like they would with a child. Instead, given the chance they will simply decide that one spouse receives ownership of the animal. However, if you and your spouse both want access to the pet, you can do so by drafting your own custody agreement.

It can be done either on your own or with the help of mediation. Some couples may be able to come to a decision together but others with a hostile relationship or drastically different ideas on the plan may need to enlist the help of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party that will help you navigate the discussion on pet custody.

Whether you are on your own or with a mediator, a few things should be taken into consideration when determining the details of the agreement. If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage or relationship that could have a significant impact on custody. If the pet was obtained during the relationship, however, it can be more complex. You should also account for what is in the best interest of the pet, for example, if one spouse lives in an apartment while the other has a spacious yard where the animal could play. Also, keep in mind who has been the primary caretaker of the animal during the relationship. If you have children you will want to allow them to see the pet as much as possible.

What Should Be Addressed in the Plan?

Your pet custody plan should be as detailed as possible, especially if your relationship with your ex-spouse is volatile or rocky. You do not want to leave any room for disputes later on. It is recommended that your agreement addresses the following topics.

  • The living arrangements of the pet and which spouse will be the primary owner
  • The visitation schedule of the other spouse
  • The agreed-upon schedule of the pet, like feeding and walking times
  • How each spouse will contribute financially to daycare, veterinary care, etc.
  • If one or both spouses have the right to make major decisions about the pet, especially medical

You can also include certain topics that are specific to you and your family. Because you and your spouse are drafting the custody plan from scratch, you can personalize it to your needs. Maybe one of you travels for work often or spends time out of state for the holidays. You can include stipulations about who will take care of the pet during specific family events or times of the year.