As of January 17, 2017, the State of Alaska enacted new law in divorce cases which now grants the Court the authority to consider the well-being of pets when determining ownership or custody of the pet. Historically, the law has treated animals and pets like property, no different than a piece of furniture. However, Courts have moved toward treating pets differently than personal property. In recent years, Courts have even found that pets have an intrinsic value which is subjective to their owners; the value of which exceeds the market value of the property itself. However, until now, no Court or legislature in the United States has moved toward treating ownership and custody of pets similarly to children in divorce cases.
In fact, Courts in Alaska may, “if an animal is owned” provide, “…for the ownership or the joint ownership of the animal, taking into consideration the well-being of the animal.” AS 25.24.160.(a)(5). Clearly, the language of the statute is similar to the “best interests” standard applied by Courts when determining child custody cases. Alaska also modified its law to provide that in Domestic Violence matters the Court may award the victim possession of a pet, regardless of whether the victim actually owns the pet, AS 18.65.520.(a)(10), and require the abuser to pay support for the pet in the victim’s care. AS 18.65.520.(a)(12).
It is likely that other States will move toward modifying their law to mirror Alaska law to provide that the well-being of a pet be considered in determining which spouse should be awarded custody of pet in divorce cases. If other states mirror Alaskan law with respect to this issue, this may be bad news for divorcing spouses who keep hermit crabs or tarantulas as pets, since Alaska law defines “animal” as “a vertebrate living creature not a human being.” AS 25.24.990.
If you or someone you know has a question regarding possession and/or “custody” of a pet, then please call the skilled divorce lawyers in New Jersey at the Law Office of Lyons & Associates. At the law office of Lyons & Associates, we represent men and women throughout New Jersey who have unresolved family law matters. We place a premium on personalized service and attention. For a private consultation, contact us online or call our offices at 908-575-9777.
Written By: Mark T. Gabriel, Esq.