It’s no secret that your pet is an extended member of the family. We even had an office debate on who was guilty of babying their pets (all of us). So, if you’re separating, the question of who gets the dog? is one that no doubt causes heated arguments when emotions are already wrought. But do you consider your fluffy friend the same as you would your child? It sounds an odd thing to ask, but some might. And a US court in Alaska has moved in line with that way of thinking, making a move to see that pets are treated similarly to children in separation proceedings.
Following an amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes last week, they are now the first state in the US to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal” and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets. Typically divorce courts treat animals as property. According to The Washington Post, the Animal Legal Defense Fund called the well-being provision “groundbreaking and unique.”
“For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners,” explained David Favre, an Animal Law specialist from Michigan State University.
“Our pets are members of our families,” Liz Vazquez, a sponsor of the Alaska amendment said. “We have to remember that we’re here to represent people; real human beings, many of whom have pets they love as much as their friends and family.” The Alaska bill also allows courts to include pets in domestic violence protective orders and requires the owners of pets seized in cruelty or neglect cases to cover the cost of their shelter.
You could see the argument for such a ruling. If you’ve spent years bonding with the family dog or cat, to suddenly have to part with them can be a huge source of emotional distress, and why shouldn’t extra care be taken to ensure that your beloved creature goes to the best possible home?
It’s not the first time disputes over a pet has made the headlines. It was the reason that divorce proceedings were stalled when actress Mandy Moore was going through her separation and Amber Heard got to “at least keep her dog” after her very public divorce with Johnny Depp was finalised.
It looks like deciding who gets to keep the dog could be easier if more countries decide to adopt the same amendment.