Canine custody has been in the press again recently. In January, a new law took effect in California which empowers judges to award or joint custody over a pet, taking into consideration the care of the pet. This isn’t just the “left coast” being creative – California was actually third in the nation with a law changing the status of pets from property to something worthy of a custody order.
Alaska blazed the trail for pet custody two years ago with HB 147, which allows a judge to enter a protective order for care of a pet “regardless of ownership”, and when adjudicating ownership, to take into consideration “the well-being of the animal.”
Illinois was second with its own pet custody law taking effect in 2018, providing “Either party may petition or move for the temporary allocation of sole or joint possession of and responsibility for a companion animal jointly owned by the parties. In issuing an order under this subsection, the court shall take into consideration the well-being of the companion animal.”
Per the New Republic, several foreign countries treat pets as sentient beings, which brings with them a variety of rights, even if not full pet custody in a divorce.
Much to our chagrin (most of us at Graham.Law have and love our pets), under Colorado law pets are merely property. At contested hearings, Judges do not award custody over the family pet, but instead divide them, right alongside the pots & pans, the marital residence, and bank accounts.
However, when both spouses agree, we at Graham.Law have negotiated settlements for care of pets which includes the schedule and responsibility for costs. But those cases are few and far between – in most cases, the pets will go to one spouse or the other, and not be shared between them with a custody schedule.
Pet custody laws appears to be a growing trend in American jurisprudence, so over time, we can expect to see more states adopt some form of pet custody. For more information, see the Pet Custody Laws in a Colorado Divorce article, in the Colorado Family Law Guide.
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