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Who Gets the Dog in a New Jersey Divorce?

By: Carl A. Taylor III

First, what I’m going to say in this post could also apply to cats and perhaps other pets as well.  But I’m a dog person and it’s easier to focus on just one animal.  Plus, I don’t want to risk upsetting my Shetland Sheepdog, Hailey, by choosing cats over dogs in this hypothetical analysis.

Second, I want to note that the issue of dogs and divorce doesn’t come up as often as non-divorce attorneys might believe it does.

Have there been cases where people have spent years and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over their beloved family dog?  Yes, but those are the exceptions to the rule (and the parties extremely rich).

Most dog-related issues in a divorce are worked out amicably, as part of the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement (a/k/a Property Settlement Agreement).  Please note that this is an area of law that is in flux.

Who Gets the Dog?

The truth is, it depends.  Here’s the important question: who’s the Judge?

I’ve heard a tale (perhaps it’s an urban legend, but my source is good) where a Judge once told a couple fighting over their dog: “Both parties need to agree to an arrangement for the dog within 48 hours, or I will Rule that the Dog will be sent to the SPCA.”

Such modern-day “King Solomon” types of rulings are increasingly rarer, as pets are more often being seen as a “part of the family” rather than merely property, or “chattel.”  Still, although dogs are getting more respect from New Jersey courtrooms, they are still currently only seen as an “elevated” form of property, on par with family heirlooms, for example.

Factors 

Again, it’s unlikely a Judge will have to make a call on this issue.  But if they did, there is a number of ways they could rule.  They could give “custody” of the dog (note: New Jersey does NOT recognize pet custody), to one party or the other.  They could aso find the dog should be given to a third party (very rare).  Or, they can come up with a doggie parenting plan.

“Husband gets Fido whenever he has parenting time with the kids” would be a good example of this.  Another would be: “Wife gets Spot one month, Husband gets Spot the next.”  And on and on.

Some of the factors the Court might look to include:

  • Did the dog belong to one of the parties prior to the marriage?
  • Are there children who are attached to the Dog?
  • Who treats the dog better/has a greater bond with the dog?
  • Does one party have a history of abuse, towards the dog or otherwise?
Conclusion
I love dogs as much as the next person.  I can see wanting to fight strongly for a dog in a divorce.  But I also believe that more times than not, it’s the parties who are better able to work out an arrangement with respect to their dogs (or other pets), rather than the Courts.
Such a resolution should lead to less hostility, less legal and court fees expended by both parties, and a fairer resolution in the best interests of the parties’ Dog(s).

If the tide is turning one way, however, it appears that the courts are beginning to consider pets more and more as a part of the family rather than simply a possession.  Something us pet owners have known all along.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.

 

 

Family Law Attorney Interview

The following is an interview with Joseph Flanders, Esq., a Minneapolis, Minnesota Family Law Attorney.  Joseph Flanders also runs the popular blog, Solo In Minneapolis.

(1) What got you interested in being a lawyer?

I went to law school with the goal of having a profession where I could be independent, use my brains, and make good money.  I was an English major as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa.  I have always loved reading and writing and people in college told me you got to do these things as a lawyer.  I have always enjoyed the research and writing aspect of the law.  In law school at the University of North Dakota School of Law, I gravitated to law review and managed to publish two legal articles before I was done.  I think that experience has lead directly to my foray into the blogosphere.

I also like people and being helpful to people.  I laugh because, when I was younger, I often told people I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.  I think that is what lead me to family law.  I don’t like the negative aspects of divorces and custody fights, but I get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of helping my client with a deeply personal, family law issue.  In sum, I think I got into law because I like people, I like the challenge, I like the money, and I like writing about it.

(2) What’s your favorite part of your job?

As I said, meeting people and helping them.  I also like interacting constantly with new people.  Although I may do 15-20 divorces a year, every person is different and every issue is different.  I like the new challenges because I get bored when things are stagnant.  This is another reason why I feel like I had to be a solo attorney – I hate boredom and the politics of working as an associate at a law firm.

I also really like working with other attorneys and judges.  Being able to talk with other legal professionals on a daily basis can be very rewarding.  Often, there is a great camaraderie in the courthouse lawyer’s lounge.  The family lawyers get together and hash out difficult family law problems in a concise and forceful fashion.  What goes on between lawyers as opposed to what clients understand about the legal system is a very interesting dichotomy.

Finally, I must admit that I like running my own business and I like the money.  If you are frugal with costs and think hard about what you are doing from a business perspective, you can make good money and be a successful busing owner.

(3) What advice would you give to other solo family law attorneys? 

Be diligent, keep your nose clean, and always have your client’s best interest in mind.  Don’t be afraid to fight, but keep a level head in the midst of strife.  Once you do all that, don’t forget to take vacation and have fun.  Before you know it, you will get very busy, your calendar will fill up, and you will feel like you don’t have time for things outside the law.  As the saying goes:  “the law is a jealous mistress.”

I say all those things tongue-in-cheek.  I have been guilty of violating all of that advice on multiple occasions.  Being a lawyer – whether family law or some other practice area – means stress and time constraints.  Those are those most difficult things for me.  You need an outlet and you need to keep a level head.

Other than those general emotional issues, my business advice is to watch overhead and stay small potatoes for a while.  Building up a practice takes time and hard work.  But, if you keep at it, network a lot, utilize technology and the internet, I think you will make it.  To be honest, if you really want to have your own practice and you focus, you can make it.  The hard part is dealing with money and stress.

Finally, as I said earlier, keep the mindset that the client is the boss and you are there to serve them.  We are in a service profession and we deal with people who are often emotionally damaged.  They are vulnerable.  They need your help.  Don’t forget about them when you get busy.

Once you remember that number one rule, remember this:  bill your client for everything you do that benefits them and don’t feel bad about the bill when it comes time to send it to them.  That is how your firm survives and that is how you put food on the table for your own family.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.

New Jersey Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial Agreements are controversial.  Are they a realistic and necessary protection, or a bad-luck harbinger of future relationship strife?  The answers to this question are as varied as views on marriage and divorce in general.  Although prenuptial agreements have their fare share of critics, they are allowed under New Jersey Law, and specifically the New Jersey Uniform Premarital Agreement Act.

A New Jersey Prenuptial Agreement (sometimes referred to as a premarital agreement)  may be agreed to between prospective spouses or partners in contemplation of marriage/domestic partnership/civil union.  Prenuptial agreements are effective/enforceable at the time of the marriage/civil union/domestic partnership.

 in New Jersey 

To be enforceable, a New Jersey Prenuptial Agreement must be in writing, and must also have a “statement of assets annexed” to the Agreement.  Like most contracts, “consideration” must be given, and the Agreement must also be signed by both parties so as to be legally binding.

Under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, the parties may contract with respect to some of the following types of issues:

  • Rights and obligations as it relates to property;
  • The disposition of property upon separation/divorce/etc.
  • Choice of Law for a separation/divorce/etc.
  • Spousal support;
  • And more.
It must be noted that a prenuptial agreement may not waive a child’s right to support from either parent.
Once a prenuptial agreement is in place, the burden of revoking or amending the Agreement–absent consent of the other party–falls to the party arguing the unenforceability of the Agreement.
 Some examples of when a New Jersey Prenuptial Agreement may not be enforceable include:
  • The Agreement was unconscionable at the time “enforcement was sought”
  • Access to independent legal counsel was not allowed to a party and that right to counsel was never waived;
  • The Agreement was not entered into “voluntarily”;
  • And more.
It’s important to remember that a prenuptial agreement is, at heart, a contract.  Therefore, many basic contracting principles may apply.
Conclusion 
New Jersey Court’s and the New Jersey Uniform Prenuptial Agreement Act provide a lot of latitude in creating enforceable prenuptial agreements.  As with any law or important decision, it is important to seek appropriate professional or other appropriate advice prior to making a decision with respect to entering into prenuptial agreements, the enforceability of a prior prenuptial agreement, or any other family law or other legal issue.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.