The legal battle over who gets the pets in a divorce

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2021 | Divorce |

Most people would agree that love sometimes ends between spouses, but it rarely ends between a person and their pet. This truth is sometimes illustrated in divorce proceedings where spouses occasionally vigorously contest who gets custody of the pet.

Over the years, courts have grappled with how to award custody of pets in a divorce.

A potentially contentious issue

Time reported that since 2017 at least six states have reconsidered changes to laws concerning the handling of pets in divorce proceedings.  This trend seeks to treat pets more like family members than as personal property. In one case, the New York Supreme Court had to adjudicate the handling of a couple’s miniature dachshund.

The courts have dealt with many similar cases since then, and many observers believe these matters will become more common. Many people settle these issues on their own, but now and then the courts must decide who gets to have custody of the pet and even the parameters of visitation rights.

A changing attitude toward pets

In 1897, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pets fell under the category of personal property. During this period, most pets worked in some capacity for families and seldom gained the level of family members. Now, though, according to at least one survey, 80% of people view their pets as family members.

This has surprising implications for divorce courts. Currently, New Jersey views pets as personal property in divorce proceedings. This means they do not have the same standing as children. In New Jersey and elsewhere case law is seeing more examples of debates over how to handle pets in a divorce.