When a couple files for divorce and begins the process of inventorying and dividing up the marital assets, what happens to the dog or other family pet? Many people consider their pets members of the family, and they cannot imagine their life without their four-legged companions. But can you get “custody” of a pet? Some states are changing the way they handle this question.
A new law in Illinois considers pets more like children in divorce, and the court can assign “custody” to one party or the other when they can’t come to an agreement on their own. Parties can agree to share ownership and responsibility of the pet through a joint custody arrangement. A judge may now consider the well-being of the pet before deciding who will have custody.
In 2017, Alaska became the “first state in the country to require courts to take ‘into consideration the well-being of the animal’ and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets.” For the record, the amendment only applies to vertebrates, so couples with exotic aquatic species, or pet tarantulas, are not affected by the laws.
Wisconsin has been trying to address this issue for the last 11 years. Representatives introduced legislation in 2007 that would, essentially, treat pet custody the way child custody is handled, but the bill ultimately failed.
Where Tennessee stands on the issue of pet “custody”
Tennessee sees the family pet as divisible marital property (barring some circumstances, of course; every case is different). For those pet lovers who are suddenly facing divorce, you should be proactive and develop a compelling case for custody of your companion animals. If you are the one who buys the animals’ food, coordinates vet appointments, walks them, and spends time with them, you can document these things and defend your position as having the pets’ best interests in mind. If you have primary residential custody of the children, you may also be able to make a strong argument that the family pets should stay with you.
While Tennessee sees your companion animal as a piece of property, you see Spot as a beloved family member whose loss you would grieve. As people’s relationships with their animals change with time, so will the laws change to reflect how we feel about our pets. If a disagreement about a beloved pet is going to create a new area of conflict in your divorce, a skilled Nashville divorce attorney from Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC, is prepared to help you resolve your differences. Come meet our own four-legged Customer Service Representative, Stella!
Divorce can be painful, and it can reveal the worst aspects of human nature. It is vital that you work with a divorce attorney who will advocate for your interests and obtain an outcome that is best for you. Do not to take on your family law problems alone. Contact Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC today, or call 615.454.9899 to reserve a consultation with an experienced Nashville attorney.