Change on the Horizon Concerning Pets and Divorce

April 6, 2017

in Minnesota Divorce

Minnesota Divorce LawAnother touchy area that can be hard to compromise on, especially for those without children, involves pets. Those who have pets understand how much they can become an integral part of the family and why, in some divorces, the thought of losing contact with a pet can be so heartbreaking.

Though people have long understood the emotional bond that comes from having a pet, the law has been slow to catch up. Until very recently, pets were an afterthought in divorces, legally consigned to the importance of any other item of personal property, like a sofa. According to recent articles on the subject, times may be ripe for change, with one state finally passing a law to recognize the important role pets play in some families. Many advocates for change hope that this represents a broader societal movement to acknowledge the legal value of animals, which, if true, could have big impacts on the way pets are dealt with during a divorce.

Pets in a Divorce

First, let’s discuss the way things have long been done. When it comes to pets, the law never held them in terribly high regard. Even if you desperately loved your dog, the family court likely didn’t care very much. That’s not because the judges are heartless (they probably really love their dog too), but because the law does not grant animals any legal weight in a divorce proceeding. Animals, under the law, are simply items of personal property. That means if one spouse came into the marriage with a pet, that pet would be deemed separate property and thus the property of that spouse in a divorce. If the pet was acquired during the marriage, it would need to be divvied up, just like the other items of marital property. Before the law, your beloved cat is no different than a TV set or an ottoman.

This means that courts will not engage in a long or detailed analysis of where a pet should be placed. There is no best interest test (which is what happens with children). There are also no court-ordered visitation arrangements allowing shared custody. After all, would a court ever order and then administer shared custody of a toaster? Unlikely.

Those who love their animals far more than their toasters have begun advocating for changes under the law. Animal activists point out that the law is actually more complicated when it comes to animals than it first appears. Though family laws ignore the importance of animals, criminal laws do not. That’s because laws exist in every state criminalizing animal abuse and neglect. In this way, the courts do in fact make a distinction between pets and sofas. After all, no one would go to jail for abusing their couch, the same isn’t true with animals.

Just last year legislators in Alaska finally took the plunge and became the first state in the country to update antiquated family laws as it relates to pets. In Alaska, judges can now conduct a best interest analysis when it comes to pets. They can consider things like how the parties care for the pet, who feeds the animal or takes it on walks, and then make a much more informed determination about who should receive the pet post-divorce. Since then, legislators in other states, like Rhode Island, have floated similar proposals. Though there’s no tidal wave of legal change just yet, Alaska’s decision marks an important legal step forward for animals and the people who love them. If progress continues, don’t be surprised if in another few years pet custody hearings are the rule rather than the exception.

Free Initial Consultation

An experienced Minnesota family law attorney can help walk you through the difficult process of divorce, including offering advice on confusing financial issues such as alimony and helping negotiate emotional subjects like child custody arrangements. For more information on divorce in Minnesota, along with a variety of other topics, contact Joseph M. Flanders of Flanders Law Firm at 612-424-0398.

 

Source: In a first, Alaska divorce courts will now treat pets more like children, by Karin Brulliard, published at WashingtonPost.com.

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Joseph Flanders of Flanders Law Firm LLC is a family law and estate planning lawyer. For further information, check out his website or you can contact him by sending an email

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