With divorce now common, family laws in most states have managed to adapt in ways that maximize the wellbeing of children. An increasing number of states, for instance, are encouraging some form of shared custody. The reasoning behind this is that it is generally in the best interests of children to maintain strong ties to both parents, when possible.
One area in which family law seems to be lacking is the treatment of pets. Most pet owners consider dogs and cats (and sometimes other animals) to be members of the family. Yet legally (here in Texas and across the country), pets are considered property, much the same as a couch or a lamp. There is essentially no legal mechanism for "pet custody." Instead, pets are supposed to be given to one spouse or the other.
State legislators could change the laws and allow judges to treat pets more like children. And recently, legislators in one state decided to do so. Earlier this month, Alaska became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law empowering judges to assign joint custody of pets in cases of divorce, and requiring them to "take into consideration the well-being of the animal" in such cases.
The legislation was part of a larger bill addressing animal welfare more generally. But the change is noteworthy because it is the first law of its kind in the country. Legal changes that create a framework for pet custody have long been discussed but not acted upon at the state level. This action could inspire other states to adopt similar measures.
Until or unless such a law is passed in Texas, the best option for devoted pet owners may be to negotiate a pet custody agreement outside the courtroom. With the help of your respective your attorneys, you and your spouse may be able to negotiate an agreement regarding custody and visitation of a beloved family pet.