Alaska is the first state in the country to require courts to take into consideration the well-being of animals in divorce cases and to grant joint custody of pets. House Bill 147, which took effect on January 17, 2017, recognizes that animals are more than just property to be divided in a divorce action.  Moreover, a court is allowed to address the best interest of the animal, not just the best interest of the owners. The court has objective criteria to help determine who gets the pet.

Not just addressing custody, the bill also allows pets to be included in protective orders and requires the payment of the costs of sheltering animals that are seized due to cruelty or neglect. In the case of a protective order, the abuser might have to pay for support of the pet, as well.

The bill was introduced by a former family law attorney, who cited to a case involving the custody of a dog sled team. The new law treats animals in divorce cases similarly to the way children are treated, which is in line with the trend in the United States to elevate pets to a status as a family member.

Author:  Nikki Bond, Lexis-Nexis Case Law Editor