An Alaska law that took effect in January requires divorce court judges to consider the well-being of pets when making decisions about which spouse gets to keep the animals.
The law (PDF), which amended Alaska’s divorce statutes. As far as I know, this law is the first in the nation to require courts to consider pets’ well-being in divorce, and to recognize they are family for nearly all U.S. pet caretakers.
Technically, speaking animals are property – but judges increasingly have understood that they are living beings, with souls and minds of their own. Pets are property with feelings. Judges themselves likely feel that way about their own pets. So, this judgement is no surprise, and appeared to be just a matter of time.
Some people argue that pets should stay with the children; others think they should remain with whoever purchased them, or whoever was their primary caretaker. Often couples purchase pets with shared money, but rarely do people want to be “bought out” of their share of Fido, as might happen with a car or a house.
Some suggest to let the pets decide. Years, ago I agreed with that notion in a national magazine story, and suggested people wipe their arms with tuna juice or smear liver under their sleeves. Later, I heard from a reader who tried this “trick,” and told me the strategy worked. The judge was impressed with how her dog wouldn’t take her eyes off her.
The Alaska law not only requires judges to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal,” it also authorizes judges to award joint custody of pets. The law also allows judges to include pets in domestic violence protection orders.