Dogs in Divorce: Several States Recognize Pets in Family Law Cases

Most people who have dogs and are close to their animals view pets more as family members than pieces of property. These are reciprocal, loving, highly connected and involved relationships between dogs and the people who care for them. Grieving the loss of your dog along with the loss of a long-term relationship in the form of marriage is an emotional double whammy.

Therefore, it should perhaps come as no surprise that some states now recognize family pets as more like people than property when they are involved in divorce proceedings. Still, these are groundbreaking developments and are worth a closer look.

In 2017, Alaska became the first state in the country to pass a formal law on the subject of pets in divorce cases. Its statutes stated that the court must consider the welfare of the animal during a divorce case. This is opposed to simply treating a pet as a financial asset or property to divide. The court could then rule on what essentially amounts to sole custody of the animal for one party or the other, or continued joint custody.

The state of Illinois was the next to join the train the following year. In 2019, another state joined the movement, California. In California, however, there was a difference in how the legislation is written. In that state, the court may consider the welfare of the animal, but is not formally obligated to do so.

Also keep in mind that dog laws in divorce cases apply to all pets in the family, not just your canine friends. They are by far the most likely to be the source of a dispute between a divorcing couple, but be it a cat, bird, lizard, or anything else, all pets can be viewed the same way.

Having the divorce court of a state handle the matter of who retains the property rights of their dog may seem like a laughing matter, or an exaggeration, from the outside in, but from one dog owner to another, it is clearly a important step in the right direction. Now that several states are making the switch legally, don’t be surprised to see other states beginning to adopt similar policies as well.

In the meantime, however, keep in mind that these are only three states out of fifty where divorced dogs are treated and their rights are considered. If you live in any of the other 47 states, then you live in a place that does not legally or officially support such considerations.

Therefore, you should always keep in mind any local legislation that may apply, and you should ensure that you are working with a legal professional who has experience in your specific area or region. The dog issue and divorce cases certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, so keep your eyes open for more updates.

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