U.S. State Will Now Treat Family Pets (More) Like Kids in Divorce Cases

In forty-nine American states?

Cats, dogs, and other household pets are treated no differently than property (“chattel” is the legal term) in the divorce process. They’re no different or more special than a table, set of china or family automobile when the time comes to set custody schedules, calculate child support and divide property, real and personal.

Alaska is taking a big step in a radical new direction.

Last week, Alaska became the first jurisdiction in the United States to require its courts to craft joint custody arrangements for pets and consider “the well-being of the animal” when doing so.

In New Jersey and most other states, the “best interests” test is at the heart of divorce custody determinations for children. Alaska will now apply a similar analysis to family pets. New Jersey nevertheless continues to decline this approach, most recently articulated in the published opinion in Houseman v. Dare, a fight over a pedigree puppy named Dexter. Said another way, what’s “best” for the dog or cat never enters into the Court’s analysis.

Still, possession of a pet may enter what is in the best interests of the child, and while N.J. courts have limited authority to enforce pet-related agreements, divorcing and separating couples are increasingly attempting to incorporate pet provisions into their settlement agreements.

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