Heymann & Fletcher

One state adds pet welfare to list of family legal issues

Many New Jersey residents are pet owners, and sincerely love their pets. When a divorce is underway, who will retain ownership of the pets is a concern for some spouses. While courts across the nation have declined to get involved in these types of disputes, one state is now ready to consider pet "custody" as one of many family legal issues that the courts will take into consideration during the course of a divorce.

New legislation was signed on Jan. 19, and states that family court judges can no longer treat pets as nothing more than personal property when deciding divorce cases. The welfare of the pets, as well as the well-being of the humans involved in the case, must be factored into any decision involving where the animals will live after a divorce. The law also allows for joint custody of a pet.

Another new law states that pets may be included in restraining orders, and allows victims of domestic violence to seek financial support for pet care from their partner. Those who support these changes claim that the new laws make it easier for pet owners to leave an abusive living situation. Research suggests that as many as 40 percent of domestic violence victims do not leave an abusive partner for fear that their pets will be subjected to harm or neglect.

This change -- in Alaska -- will likely lead to some interesting court cases in which spouses are unable to come to terms on pet ownership. The new laws could also lead other states, including New Jersey, to consider similar legislation surrounding family legal issues. That would come as a welcome change for many people who consider their pets as members of their family.  

Source: The Huffington Post, "In Alaska, Divorce Courts Must Now Consider Pet Wellbeing", Hilary Hanson, Jan. 26, 2017

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