Pets now subject to custody determination in Alaskan divorce matters

pets in divorce cases

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.

Because Community Matters: Learn More about STAIR Annapolis!

In October of 2015, our firm founder Paula Peters started volunteering with a group called STAIR Annapolis. STAIR stands for Start the Adventure in Reading, and it is an outreach program aimed at improving the literacy skills of children here in Annapolis, to give them a better chance at a brighter future. STAIR’s mission is:

  • To increase the reading level of skill-deficient students.
  • To increase each student’s sense of self-worth and esteem by providing a success-oriented program which expands the student’s knowledge of self and the world of reading.
  • To provide a caring environment which will promote a more meaningful dialogue among multi-ethnic volunteers, children, teachers, and parents.

Paula is so excited to be a part of this program, and volunteers weekly at Parole-Walter Mills Elementary School. Part of her work involves administering some diagnostics to determine her tutee’s skill level, but she told us she had a blast, with both she and her child taking turns reading books aloud to each other. They will play word games together too, which will help the children in the program learn how language functions – and makes learning fun too!

The illiteracy problem in this country is staggering

According to Pro Literacy, in 2014 there were about 36 million adults in the U.S. who read at a 3rd grade level. The Statistic Brain puts that number around 14% of all U.S. adults. These numbers make sense, in a perverse kind of way, as most educational institutions (and the laws which govern them at local and federal levels) assume that a child can read by the 3rd grade. If you or your child is what some call a low-level reader, the chances are high that you did not receive the extra help you needed for the later grades, which would cause the literacy rate to stall.

But the problems do not stop there. In 1989, pro football player Dexter Manley testified before Congress that he was functionally illiterate, reading at only a 2nd grade level at best. In 2014, CNN looked into “the reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill athletes who played football or basketball from 2004 to 2012… [and] found that 60% read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels. Between 8% and 10% read below a third-grade level.”

Why STAIR is such an important program

By working with 2nd graders, STAIR hopes to put children in a better position early on, and to encourage in them a love of reading that will carry throughout their adult lives. For some kids here in Annapolis, the STAIR program may be their only real chance at improving their abilities before being figuratively left behind by their peers.

All of us at Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, PA are really proud of Paula’s work with children in the STAIR program, and we encourage everyone to rally to the cause. By becoming mentors to young children at a time when they need us most, we may be able to change the future, and knock out illiteracy once and for all. To find out more about volunteering, we encourage you to contact STAIR Annapolis, or to reach out to our office.

Cynthia Clark Named Officer in James C. Cawood, Jr. American Inn of Court

cynthia h clark and associates

Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC is proud to announce that partner Cynthia H. Clark is the 2015 Assistant Secretary of the James C. Cawood, Jr. American Inn of Court! This prestigious Inn is housed right here in Annapolis, and is named for the late Judge James C. Cawood, Jr. This is Ms. Clark’s first election to an officer position in the Inn, though she has been a member for four years, and we are all incredibly proud of her and the work that she does.

What are the American Inns of Court?

The American Inns of Court are part of nationwide organization with the mission “to foster excellence in professionalism, ethics, civility, and legal skills.” The Inns of Court are “uniquely non-partisan,” and encourages all members of legal field – attorneys, judges, law students, and professors – to build collaborative and mentoring-based relationships with one another.

The James C. Cawood, Jr. American Inn of Court reached it current incarnation in 2007, when the Paca-Brent Inn changed its name to honor the late Judge James C. Cawood. The Paca-Brent Inn was formed in 1993, when two separate Inns joined forces to better serve the legal community, and therefore its clientele, as one larger organization.

The professional credo

As an Officer of the Inn, Ms. Clark will continue to advocate on behalf of colleagues and clients in Maryland. She will help to uphold the Inn’s Professional Credo, a pledge made by the members to, among other things:

  • Treat the practice of law as a learned profession and will uphold the standards of the profession with dignity, civility and courtesy.
  • Value integrity above all.
  • Represent the interests of clients with vigor and will seek the most expeditious and least costly solutions to problems, resolving disputes through negotiation whenever possible.
  • Work continuously to attain the highest level of knowledge and skill in the areas of the law in which they practice.
  • Contribute time and resources to public service, charitable activities and pro bono work.

We are all very proud of Cynthia Clark’s accomplishments, both as our colleague and as an Officer of the Inn of Court. We know that she will continue to advocate passionately on behalf of those she assists here and throughout the state.

Peter & Clark, P.A. is a family law firm based in Annapolis and serving clients throughout Maryland. To learn more about Ms. Clark’s role in the James C. Cawood, Jr. American Inn of Court, or to discuss your legal needs with a skilled divorce attorney, we encourage you to contact us.