Does Your Pet Need a Divorce Lawyer?

Aug 8, 2012 by

Uncontested divorces without children or large assets to divide are usually considered the least expensive and least complicated type of break-ups. However, a couple in New Jersey is finding out that even if you aren’t married and have no children, breaking up can be very costly and time consuming if you are a pet lover.

A landmark ruling by a state appeals court in New Jersey mandates that a couple who spent some $40,000 battling over the custody of the pet pug they once cared for together will now have to share joint custody of the dog.

Eric Dare and Doreen Houseman were not married, but spent 13 years together before terminating their relationship in 2006. So far, each has spent more than $20,000 on legal bills pursuing custody of their pet pug. Both plaintiffs have stated they considered the dog” their son”. Dare is a police officer and Houseman a customer service manager. Dare and Houseman’s dog was at first treated as an item of personal property. Since he already had possession of the dog, the New Jersey courts awarded Dare the pug and Houseman was granted $1,500 in cash, reflecting the original purchase price of the dog.

However, a surprise ruling by a New Jersey State Appeals Court has now determined a different outcome in Dexter the pug’s custody case. Salem County Superior Judge John Tomasello ruled that Dexter’s “subjective value” must be considered and that the dog is actually joint property because Dare and Houseman both cared for the animal during their relationship together.

Tomasello’s final ruling was that six-year-old Dexter will now live with each of his previous owners on a five-week rotating schedule. The verdict mirrors the belief that pets are not “just property,” a view currently being pushed by many animal rights groups, but Dare’s attorney James Carter, doesn’t quite agree. Carter said he might consider appealing the ruling because he doesn’t think pet custody should be treated like child custody cases and that the ruling could set a precedent for courtroom chaos. It could also make divorce more expensive for all pet owners if animals are afforded the same rights as dependent children.

So far, Dexter the pug has not yet hired his own counsel in the case.

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