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Pet Custody Increasingly an Issue in New Jersey Divorces

According to an article in the Asbury Park Press, custody cases involving pets are on the rise across the country.

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A recent book called What About Wally? Co-Parenting A Pet With Your Ex, was co-authored by a family law attorney who had personally dealt with the pet custody issue.

Some divorcing couples may fight over custody of a pet because they both care deeply about the pet, or fear that the loss of the pet will be emotionally hard for their children. However, other divorcing couples may use a battle over custody of a pet as just one more way to get back at the other spouse. Such disputes can be expensive: in California, a couple spent over $100,000 fighting over custody of their mixed breed dog, Gigi.

New Jersey provides statutory factors to be applied in disputes involving the custody of children. However, there are no such statutes governing custody of pets. "The best interest of the pet," and the pet's preferences, are not considerations.

Although there are no reported New Jersey cases involving who gets custody of a pet in the event of a divorce, a New Jersey court has ruled that pets can be worth more to their owners than just the "fair market value."

In the New Jersey case, when a multi-year relationship ended, the woman and her former fiancé shared custody of their dog for several years. Eventually, however, the man refused to continue to share. The woman sued to enforce the dog-sharing arrangement, and the trial court initially found the dog to be "personal property," and awarded monetary compensation to the woman.

The woman appealed, on the grounds that a dog is worth more than purchase price or replacement cost. The court of appeals agreed, comparing pets to family heirlooms or works of art, and finding that money cannot adequately compensate for the special subjective benefit that a pet owner derives from possession of the pet.

If you're involved in a New Jersey family law dispute, whether it involves custody of a pet or other issues, contact the experienced New Jersey family lawyers at the Law Offices of Greenberg, Walden & Grossman, LLC.

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