Dogs in Divorce: Multiple States Recognizing Pets in Family Law Cases

Most people who own dogs and are close to their pets see them more like family members than property. It is a reciprocal, loving, deeply connected and involved relationship between the dog and the person who cares for him. Mourning the loss of a dog alongside the loss of a long-term relationship in the form of marriage is an emotional double whammy.

Therefore, it may come as no surprise that some states now recognize family pets as more like people than property when it comes to divorce proceedings. Still, this is an innovative development and should be looked at closely.

In 2017, Alaska became the first state in the country to adopt a formal law regarding pets in divorce cases. The law indicates that courts must consider the welfare of animals in divorce cases. This is as opposed to just treating your pet like a financial asset or property to be parted with. The court can then order what is actually custody of the animal to one party or the other, or continue joint custody.

The next state of Illinois joined the bandwagon the following year. In 2019, another state joined the movement, California. In California, there are differences in the rules. In these countries, courts may consider the animal’s welfare but are not formally required to.

Also remember that the law regarding dogs in divorce cases applies to all family pets, not just your canine companion. They are far and most likely to be a source of dispute between divorced couples, but whether they are cats, birds, lizards, or others, all pets can be viewed the same.

Having a state divorce court handle matters that retain ownership rights for dogs may seem like a laughing matter, or like overkill, from the outside in, but from one dog owner to another, it is clearly an important step in the right direction. With some countries now legalizing it, don’t be surprised to see other countries start adopting similar policies.

In the meantime though, keep in mind that these are the only three countries out of fifty where dogs in divorce are considered with the right to be considered. If you live in one of the other 47 states, you live in a locality that does not legally or officially support such considerations.

Therefore, you should always keep in mind the local rules that may apply, and you should be able to work with a legal professional who has experience in a particular area or region. Dog issues and divorce cases are definitely not going away, so keep your eyes open for further updates.

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