Interesting news from Alaska for family lawyers and pet owners alike.
Although judges across the USA already have a discretion to consider an animal’s well-being in a divorce, this is the first time a state has actually codified it in a statute. It will now be mandatory for a judge to consider the animal’s welfare and for the first time the court will have the power to award joint custody of a ” companion animal”: what a great term!
Here in the UK the law in this area is much as it is in Canada: a pet is considered broadly in the same way as a couples’ other belongings are. And certainly I knew a few family judges who would have no time to entertain any lengthy argument about the future ownership of a cat or dog…indeed would go so far as to offer the pet for sale if they couldn’t sort it out between them. I did once have a case, many moons ago, where we were arguing late into the day about ownership of some koi carp and a microwave. At the end of his tether the judge rather unkindly suggested that the use of one might remove the need for debate on the other. Ouch! We sorted things out pretty quickly at that point….
This month, Alaska became the first state in which judges are required to consider animal welfare in cases where divorcing couples have a pet.
The amendments to the states divorce laws that have major implications not only for animal welfare, but for the health and safety of human beings as well.
Generally, animals are considered property under the law. But Alaskas new amendments mean that a judge cannot regard a pet in a divorce case the same way they would a table or chair.
The law is in stark contrast to a Canadian judges ruling in widely publicized divorce case in December. In that case, the judge ruled that a dog 'enjoys no familial rights and threatened to order a couples dog to the highest bidder if they couldnt make up their minds about who would get custody.