Married pet owners in New Jersey may want to consider what will happen to their pets if they get divorced. As more couples delay having children, pet custody is becoming an increasingly common issue in divorce cases around the nation. Many people see pets as family members, but according to the law, they should be treated as property the same way other objects are.

According to one divorce attorney, the way pet custody disputes are decided is largely up to the judge, and their opinions can vary. Some may take into account which spouse provides a majority of the care for the dog, but others will view pet custody as a financial issue. In cases where someone owns the pet prior to the marriage, they can avoid these disputes by including their ownership in a prenuptial agreement.

People may spend thousands of dollars fighting to obtain custody of their cat, dog, or other pet. In one case, a divorcing couple had a three-day trial to determine who would gain custody of their dog. Although the ex-wife said she bought the dog before they were married, her ex-husband said the same thing. The ex-wife’s lawyer had to find witnesses who would corroborate her story.

When a couple undergoes a divorce, they can either come to a decision together about property distribution, or the court will distribute their property for them. New Jersey follows the rule of equitable distribution, and a court will make a determination based upon what it believes to be fair. In order to determine who gets what, a judge will take into account a number of factors, including how long the marriage lasted and the financial status of both parties.

Source: The Daily Beast , “Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally“, Keli Goff , June 20, 2014