Your animals are essential to your family. They provide comfort, entertainment and probably occasional frustration, and the idea of parting with your beloved pet is distressing. Along with decisions about how to divide money, property and possessions, pet owners must decide what to do with their companion animals.
Deciding what to do with the furry members of your family during a divorce is a difficult decision for most couples. Both spouses have cared for the animal and developed a strong attachment. Most couples decide who will be keeping the pets outside of the courtroom, but for those that cannot judges step in and make a final decision.
A new state law that went into effect on January 1, 2018 addresses the well being and custody of companion animals during a divorce. The law is similar to a law passed in Alaska in 2017. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are in the process of creating comparable pet provisions.
Until now, pets had been treated just like property, but the new legislation regards pets more like children and judges will consider the best interest of the pet when making custody decisions. Since most pet owners consider their pets as members of their family instead of just pieces of property, the new law addresses that designation. It even allows judges to award joint ownership of the animal, essentially a shared custody arrangement.
Judges take into consideration when the pet was adopted, so pets purchased before marriage are often awarded to the spouse that purchased the animal. Additionally, a judge will consider who was the animal's main caregiver and if one spouse is more financially able to care for the pet. The new law only applies to pets and not service animals.
For pet parents, the new law is a step in the right direction towards legislature recognizing the emotional attachment we have to our furry companions.