“Pets are property,” is a long-established court holding Did you know that Illinois currently ranks #1 in animal protection laws? Our bankrupt, dysfunctional state actually gets at least one thing right. Further, notably, Alaska recently amended its divorce statutes to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal,” as well as giving the courts the right to order shared parental responsibility and parenting time.. Given the care and concern most of us have for our own pets, it is likely that more and more states will move in this direction.
Given that many adults consider their furry companions to be “kids,” whether they also reside with the flesh and blood type or not, the culture is ripe for a shift in perception of how animals are treated when relationships fail. Already, many states, including Illinois, protect animals in a domestic violence situation. It is hard to maintain that when a separation is amicable (relatively), that one party should cease having any care, concern or contact with a family pet. Considerations of the fact that both parties typically provide care for a companion animal led Alaska to recently pass a law regarding the right to time with pets in a divorce matter.
Alaska House Bill No. 147 is entitled “An Act relating to the investigation of cruelty to animals complaints, relating to the seizure of animals; relating to the destruction of animals; relating to a bond or security posted for the costs of care for an animal; relating to the inclusion of an animal in a protective order and the crimes and arrests for violating that protective order; and relating to the ownership of an animal upon divorce or dissolution of marriage.” Thus the Alaska statute not only provides for pets in domestic relations matters, but also allows them to be considered protected parties in Orders of Protection. The Alaska statute as it addresses domestic violence against animals is broad in its definition of animals, stating that “’animal’ means a vertebrate living creature not a human being, but does not include fish.” (sorry Nemo) It states that a protective order may, in relevant part : “(17) prohibit the respondent from removing, harming, or disposing of an animal owned or possessed by the petitioner, respondent, or any other person living in the residence; …and (18) grant the petitioner the exclusive care, custody, and control of an animal owned or possessed by the petitioner, respondent, or any other person living in the residence.” As relating to dissolution matters, the bill states that in a divorce judgment, or any time afterwards, the court may provide for the ownership or joint ownership of an animal, considering the well-being of the animal.
This consideration of the well-being of the animal aligns the analysis of post-decree pet ownership similar to the “best interests” standard used to determine allocation of parental responsibilities for a child. Alaska is showing an understanding of the time, where emotional attachment to a pet, particularly in a situation of loss, requires pets to be treated more like children, and not furniture. Illinois family courts currently use the definition of pet “owner” as found in the Animal Control Act, 510 ILCS 5/2.16, where an owner is defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian.” Thus litigants fighting for time with a pet, or contribution towards pet expenses, etc., are faced with an all or nothing prospect.
1Animal Legal Defense Fund Best and Worst States for Animal Protection Laws, 2016 Report Released