For an animal lover, a pet is more than a possession – it’s a member of the family, and a beloved one at that. But what happens to that “family member” when the family unit dissolves through divorce?
Most courts don’t share the sentiment that pets are family but rather view pets as property. However, this “property” is not as easy to distribute as say a house or a car. When it comes to deciding the post-divorce fate of a pet, courts consider the people involved rather than the animal: Who paid for the pet? Who cares for the pet? If children are involved, should the animal stay with them? That’s about to change, however, for one state.
Alaska recently became the first state to amend its divorce statutes so that courts are now required to consider the well-being of the animal in divorce cases (read, “In a first, Alaska divorce courts will now treat pets like children”). The amendments will even allow judges to award joint custody of a pet, if that arrangement is in best interest of the animal, and to include pets when issuing protective orders in cases of domestic violence. Time will tell if more states will follow this lead.