Feb 4, 2019

Dogs in Divorce: More States are Treating Pets as People not Property

Feb 4, 2019 - Family Law by |

States are Passing Laws Regarding How to Handle Pets in Divorce Cases

Two years ago, we shared news that Alaska became the first state to formally pass statutes regarding how to handle pets in divorce cases, requiring courts in the state to consider the wellbeing of the animal as opposed to simply viewing a dog as property to be divvied up between the two parties. They aren’t alone anymore, as at the start of 2019, a new law has gone into effect in the state of California as well.

California’s law is a bit different than what has been seen elsewhere. It essentially allows judges the opportunity to consider the rights and wellbeing of the animal, as opposed to requiring them to do so. In cases where it’s relevant though, it’s hard to envision judges ignoring this new statute and reverting back to simply treating the pet as property.

It’s not just dogs in divorce, either. It’s actually all animals which are pets, whether cats or anything else. One study five years ago found that nearly 90% of the time dogs were viewed as the most disputed animals between couples, though, so they’re clearly the most prevalent.

California is actually the third to pass such a law. Following Alaska in 2017 was Illinois last year, and now, the new measure in California which has been added to the mix. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more states follow along in the years ahead. Many such matters begin in this fashion—a slow trickle, one at a time, of states passing measures that others have. Momentum then builds and numbers sometimes quickly rise. From there, a larger countrywide consensus occasionally forms.

It must be noted though that Maryland views pets as property still. The state has not yet adopted any kind of policy to view pets with rights closer to those that a family member would have as opposed to a piece of property or asset to be divided.

Maryland has shown malleability in regards to family law though. That’s been seen in recent years in everything from the legalization of same sex marriage and same sex divorce, to the provision allowing for mutual consent divorce in Maryland. It wouldn’t be a total surprise then to see Maryland change its stance on dogs in divorce at some point in the near future.