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Pets and divorce

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Your New Hampshire Divorce and Your Four Legged Family Members

Did you include the four legged members of your family on your shopping list this holiday season? If so, you aren’t alone. On average, Americans spend nearly $50 billion on their pets each year. Unsurprisingly, pets often become members of our family. In fact, there are a number of New Hampshire citizens who prefer their pets to actual people.

It is not uncommon for new clients to ask our NH family law attorneys “What will happen to our pets after our divorce is finalized?”

Although our pets become a part of our families and we often treat them like children, New Hampshire Family and Probate Courts do not classify pets as children. Subsequently, “custody” of your pooch is most decidedly not determined by NH child custody laws, which take the best interests of children into consideration.

In the event of a New Hampshire divorce case, pets will be classified as property. As such, pets are subject to New Hampshire’s equitable division of property laws, pursuant to RSA 458:5 and 458:9. Regardless of how much you might love your pets, your dog, cat, or lizard possesses no more legal standing, under New Hampshire state law, than your lawnmower or living room furniture.

In compliance with NH divorce laws, all property that is mutually owned by either party in a divorce case, “no matter where situated, when acquired, or how acquired”, is subjected to equitable division during divorce proceedings. This means that you and your former spouse must fairly divide all property between the two of you, including your pets.

When determining exactly how your marital property should be divided, a New Hampshire court will take into account a number of different factors, including, amongst other elements, how long your marriage lasted, the conduct of both parties with regards to the marriage’s breakup, the age and health of both parties, their occupation and station, both parties’ estates, each party’s contributions to the preservation and acquisition of the marital estate, each party’s homemaking contributions, and each party’s needs.

Although pets are classified as property under New Hampshire law, it is not unusual for an NH court to take into account whether a pet was owned by one spouse prior to the marriage and which party served as the primary caregiver to the pet during the course of the marriage.

Your concern for your pets’ well-being is quite understandable, and our NH family law attorneys understand how important it is to you. When it comes to the custody of pets, we can work closely with you to reach an agreement with your former spouse regarding pet ownership. If these efforts fail, then we will work diligently within the court system to ensure that you obtain custody of your beloved four legged friend.

To set up a free consultation regarding your case, or to have your questions answered by one of our experienced NH divorce lawyers, contact our law firm today via email, phone, or through our website.