Alaska Becomes First State To Pass Provision For Pets Of Divorce
In custody cases, judges are tasked with looking at the best interest of the child involved when making decisions about placement. Alaska has taken a bold step forward in requiring judges to also consider ‘what’s best’ for pets of divorce cases – in fact, it’s the first state in the US to pass such a law.
For the most part, in divorce cases, pets are usually treated like personal property, with little consideration of the well-being of the pet. Alaska’s new law, which went into effect on January 17, now insists that all parties of a divorce hearing treat pets of the relationship as sentient creatures that have specific welfare needs.
Even in situations where one person enters a relationship already owning a pet, in divorce situations, the court will not automatically give custody to that person, but will look at the overall family situation to consider where the pet’s best interests lie. Animal Law Professor at Michigan State University David Favre says this law is significant in that for the first time, a court will award ‘custody’ of a pet based on what’s best for the pet, and not necessarily for the owner.
The new law came with other changes for animal protection in Alaska as well. Now, pet owners will be financially responsible for care of their animals who are removed from their custody because of neglect or abuse. Additionally, pets may now gain the protection of domestic violence restraints. This is tremendous, as many victims of domestic violence stay in dangerous situations because there is no protection for their pet if they were to leave. Now, pets will also be protected, and if there is domestic violence involving a pet, the offender will be charged with cruelty to animals automatically.
Often, because our commitment to our pets is so great, we will sacrifice our own well-being for theirs. This is why who gets the dog is such a tough issue for courts in divorce hearings–just because the couple may no longer love each other, they both still very much love their pet. Now, courts in Alaska acknowledge that love and relationship and the seeing of pets as more than possessions benefits the animal significantly, which in turn benefits both the owners.
While Alaska is the first state to do this, we hope more may follow suit. Animals are not possessions; they are loving creatures who deserve to have their disrupted lives be the best they can be, regardless of whether or not Mommy and Daddy stay together.
More by Lori Ennis