According to a recent survey, 65% of U.S. households, or about 79.7 million families, own a pet. It is therefore inevitable that the issue of pet ownership comes up in divorce cases. Divorces, by definition, involve the division of real property and personal property (such as cars and furniture). Historically, pets have been considered personal property under the law and thus divisible among divorcing parties. In other words, a pet is either awarded to the Wife or Husband as part of a divorce, just like any other piece of personal property.
However, a new trend is emerging wherein pets are being treated more like children when parties divorce. This year, Alaska enacted a law that requires judges to take into consideration the well-being of pets and gives judges the authority to provide for joint custody of pets. The law also allows judges to include pets in domestic violence protection orders. Alaska is the first state to pass such a law. This new law is groundbreaking and represents a major shift in thinking about the role that pets play in our lives. However, it remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.
Anna L. Hart, Esq.