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Alaskan divorce courts to treat pets more like children

New law provides for joint ownership of family animals

The Animal Legal Defense Fund of the United States has reported in its blog that Alaska has become the first state in the country to empower judges to take into account the "well-being of the animal" in custody disputes involving non-human family members. Amendments to the state divorce statute, which became effective on 17 January 2017, expressly require courts to address the interests of companion animals when deciding how to assign ownership in divorce and dissolution proceedings. It is, according to the ALDF, also the first to explicitly allow joint ownership of a companion animal.

The statute now provides that 'in a judgment in an action for divorce or action declaring a marriage void or at any time after judgment, the court may provide . . .  if an animal is owned, for the ownership or joint ownership of the animal, considering the well-being of the animal'.      

The amended statute has also added a condition if a husband and wife are to petition together the superior court for the dissolution of their marriage that 'if an animal is owned, the spouses [shall] have agreed to the ownership or joint ownership of the animal, taking into consideration the well-being of the animal'.  

The legislation also allows animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders.

In 2014 The International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family published an article written by Deborah Rook of Northumbria Law School – Who Gets Charlie? The Emergence of Pet Custody Disputes in Family Law: Adapting Theoretical Tools from Child Law –  which harnessed the extensive literature on children's rights and the 'best interest of the child' test to advocate a new approach to resolving pet custody disputes on relationship breakdown.

For the Animal Legal Defense Fund blog is here. The legislation is here.