Everyone understands that divorces can be messy, tension-filled and highly confrontational. Amongst other disagreements, most soon to be former spouses argue over the division of personal property items – who is going to get the antique vase? The collection of artwork and paintings? The flat screen televisions? The expensive jewelry? and even the pets in divorce cases.
Up until a few weeks ago in Alaska, pets were included in this discussion regarding the division of personal property items because that is how they were viewed by the courts – as items of property to be divided between divorcing spouses. Pets were included in the same analysis as to how a car or collection of home furnishings was to be divided in divorce matters. As a relationship one has with a pet is more important than how much material value they possess, and as people cannot be “bought out” of their share of their pet, the analysis used for dividing property is not a good fit for resolving pet custody disputes.
Due to a recent amendment of Alaska’s divorce statutes, pets are no longer subject to the classification of “property” in terms of how they are viewed in divorce matters. Alaska is the first state in the country to take into consideration the well-being of the animal and to enable judges to assign divorcing couples joint custody of pets. Pets are given the distinction, for the first time, beyond that as items of property, and the court may award custody based upon what is best for the pet, not it’s human owner. Further, the Alaskan amendment also allows courts to include pets in domestic violence protective orders and requires the owners of pets seized due to cruelty or neglect cases to provide payment for the cost of their shelter.
This amendment embodies the sentiment most of us who are pet-owners feels about our pets – they are members of our family whom we love as much as our own human friends and family. Decisions made as to who retains custody of the pets should take into consideration the best interest of the pet, and not solely the desires of the pet-owners. Hopefully this recent amendment will spark a trend that will begin to sweep across the nation and over into Maryland.
Peters & Clark, P.A. is an Annapolis-based family law firm serving clients throughout the state of Maryland. If you and your spouse are considering a divorce, please contact our firm to reserve a consultation time at our office.