More and more people today seem to have pets as part of their family than in prior generations. At the same time, the regard given to family pets has changed over time as it is more common today for people to consider their dogs or cats as members of their family, not simply furry items they own or pieces of property. This change can bring much joy to people except when it comes to a marital split and both spouses want to keep a pet.
As explained by Time magazine, divorce courts have experienced a jump in the number of cases in which spouses argue over who gets to keep the dog or cat. Some judges have been forced to make these determinations. In one case in New York State, the Supreme Court even had to make a final ruling on pet custody in a divorce. A handful of states have taken the step to pass laws that provide guidance to judges for making these decisions.
Alaska led the way with the first pet custody law in 2017 followed by Illinois in 2018 and then California in 2019. A lawmaker in Rhode Island has proposed a law like this as well. The federal government has made animal cruelty a felony and most states allow pets to be included in domestic violence orders.
According to Pew Trusts, the pet custody laws direct judges to evaluate the daily care of a pet by identifying which person provides primary care and love to the pet. This includes feeding, walking, grooming and more. The lifestyle of each spouse and available time they have to spend with the pet may also be taken into consideration.