In a decision of fist impression a New Jersey court has awarded shared possession of a six year old pedigree pug named Dexter to a former couple who bought the dog for $1,500 while were engaged and living together.
In Houseman v. Dare, the court gave each party five weeks of time with Dexter and alternating holidays, with the party having physical custody responsible for Dexter’s veterinary bills including cremation expenses in the event of his death. The court hoped that in such unfortunate circumstances the responsible party would agree to share his ashes.
The decision follows up an New Jersey appeals court ruling that pets, unlike furniture, household goods and other types of personal property, have a subjective value that transcends monetary factors. At the same time, it should be noted that the court declined to apply a "best interests of the pet" standard as would apply to child custody cases
I have at times handled so-called "pet custody" as part of a divorce, although the court in Houseman declined to use the word "custody", opting instead for "possession". Regardless of the language, there is no doubt that pets are often considered "members of the family" instead of mere objects and that courts are starting to acknowledge their unique and special status.