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If We’re Divorced, Who Gets Our Pet During the Holidays?

By understanding your legal rights regarding the possession of pets during divorce, you should know your rights for quality time with them.

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Hear those four scampering feet bounding up the stairs to wake you up? During the holidays, it can become even more complex for families who’ve parted ways to decide who gets custody of their beloved pet on a certain day. After all, the majority of dog owners (85%) and cat owners (76%) consider their pets as members of the family. 

By understanding your legal rights regarding the possession of pets during divorce proceedings and providing helpful tips for balancing love and responsibility, you should know your rights to getting quality time with your furry friends this season.

Who Gets the Pet During the Holidays After Divorce?

After a divorce in New Jersey, the courts don’t determine who gets the pet during the holidays. However, a judge has the authority to grant one party full custody of the pet at the time of divorce. It’s important to note that pets are considered property in New Jersey, similar to furniture or artwork, and aren’t treated as children in custody.

How Do New Jersey Courts Decide Pet Custody?

While the legal system views pets as property, it recognizes the significance of maintaining their health and happiness. A crucial factor in determining ownership is prior possession; if one party owned the pet before the relationship or marriage, the judge typically awards ownership to that individual.

Additionally, the judge assesses who’s the primary caretaker, responsible for feeding, grooming, walking, and providing medical care to the pet. This person is likely to be granted ownership due to their consistent care. The judge might also consider who spends more “bonding” time with the pet playing and going for walks. Finally, the post-divorce living situations are evaluated; if one party moves to a smaller home, it may not be suitable for a large breed like a Great Dane or Old English Sheepdog.


The well-being of the children is also a big concern for judges in deciding who gets the family pet during a divorce. Even in the most amicable split, children often experience feelings of depression and abandonment, making the presence of a pet especially comforting. In cases where one spouse is granted primary custody of the children, that person is usually awarded ownership of the pet, recognizing the animal as a valuable companion that can help alleviate the children’s anxiety during this challenging period.

In situations where custody of the children is shared equally between the spouses, the judge might establish a similar shared schedule for the pet to ensure it stays with the children. If the divorcing couple doesn’t have children, other criteria come into play when determining the pet’s custody arrangement.


Despite pets being legally classified as property, the courts acknowledge their living nature and prioritize their well-being in the decision-making process. It’s essential to understand that each case is unique, and the court considers all of these relevant factors before reaching a final judgment on pet custody.

NJ Courts Use These Factors to Determine Pet Custody

The courts in New Jersey determine pet custody based on various factors, including:

Considering these factors and others, the courts decide which party will retain custody of the pet. Like child custody, joint or sole custody can be awarded for pets. However, factors like distance between parties’ residences may inhibit shared custody due to potential travel anxiety for the animal.

Couples Can Choose Who Gets Custody or Decide Pet Custody Arrangements in Their Divorce Agreements

In divorce agreements, couples can now include “pet parenting time” provisions or decide on pet custody arrangements. However, navigating this process isn’t always straightforward. Beyond determining where the beloved pet will live, there are also financial considerations and decision-making responsibilities to address. 

Is There Anything I Can Do Legally to Create a Pet Custody Arrangement?

To ensure a comprehensive and legally binding pet custody arrangement, we recommend consulting with your divorce attorney. While making informal arrangements with your spouse might be tempting, having an experienced family law attorney at Smedley Law Group draft the necessary agreements provides clarity and protection for all parties involved, especially your beloved pet. 

By putting everything in writing, you can establish a shared understanding of your pet’s current and future well-being, addressing essential aspects such as custody and support. Your divorce attorney will guide you through the legal intricacies, helping you navigate the process and create a solid foundation for your pet’s custody arrangement. Remember, seeking professional legal advice is crucial to safeguarding your pet’s best interests in the long run.

So, What Are My Options for Getting My Pet for the Holidays?

Much like we advise those wanting special arrangements during the holiday season or summer with their children after divorce, your best option is communicating with your ex. Just as they wish for special one-on-one time with the beloved animal, you do as well. Approach it as it is the best thing for the pet as they are probably very tense from the stress of the divorce.

If you can’t work it out with your ex-spouse, contact an experienced family law attorney at Smedley Law Group who can mediate and create an agreement that everyone respects and follows.

Contact the Compassionate Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today

If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child or pet custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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