Most people who own dogs and are close with their animals view the pets more like family members than pieces of property. These are reciprocal, loving, highly connected and involved relationships between dogs and the people who care for them. Mourning the loss of your dog alongside the loss of a long-term relationship in the form of a marriage is an emotional double whammy.
Therefore, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that some states are now recognizing family pets as more akin to people than property when involved in divorce proceedings. Still, these are groundbreaking developments and it’s worth taking a closer look.
In 2017, Alaska became the first state in the country to pass a formal law on the matter of pets in divorce cases. Their statutes indicated that the court is required to take the animal’s wellbeing into consideration during a divorce case. This is as opposed to merely treating a pet like a financial asset or piece of property to be divvied up. The court would then be able to rule for what essentially amounts to sole custody of the animal to one party or another, or continued joint custody.
The state of Illinois was the next to join the bandwagon the following year. In 2019, another state joined the movement, California. In California, there was a difference in how the legislation is worded though. In that state the court is able to consider the wellbeing of the animal but is not formally required to do so.
Also keep in mind that the laws regarding dogs in divorce cases apply to all family pets, not just your canine friends. They are far and away the most likely to be the source of a dispute between a divorcing couple, but whether it’s a cat, bird, lizard, or anything else, all pets can be viewed the same.
Having a state’s divorce court handle the matter of who retains ownership rights to your dog may seem like a laughing matter, or like overkill, from the outside in, but from one dog owner to another, it’s clearly an important step in the right direction. With several states now legally making the switch, don’t be surprised to see other states begin to adopt similar policies as well.
In the meantime though, keep in mind these are only three states out of fifty where dogs in divorce are treated with their rights being considered. If you live in any of the other 47 states, then you live in a locale that does not legally or officially support such considerations.
Therefore you always have to keep in mind any local legislation which may apply, and you need to be sure to work with a legal professional who has experience in your specific area or region. The matter of dogs and divorce cases certainly isn’t going to go away anytime soon, so keep your eyes open for further updates.