You wouldn’t normally consider whether pets should be given the same rights as children in divorce settlements.
Alaska has become the first state in the United States to give Judges the power to take into account an animal’s wellbeing in custody disputes. The Courts in Alaska now have to address the interests of companion animals when deciding how to deal with the ownership of such animals in divorce proceedings, and it can allow joint ownership of a companion animal so that its care is shared.
I have had cases where animals become highly contentious issues in divorce proceedings. Parties can spend thousands of pounds arguing over animals, so it is important to try to agree with your spouse on how you are to share your time with the animal.
Can animals, therefore, be treated like children? I have a dog and three children and they are completely different – mentally and physically. You clearly care for both but children tend to be more important and the focus is often on the impact that the divorce will have upon them.
If there are no children of the marriage, then pets can be treated like children and can become an important part of any divorce.
Animals have been used to cause emotional distress to the other party in divorce proceedings and used as bargaining tools in respect of dividing the finances. There is however always a solution in relation to dividing your time with your animal – it is important that a reasonable and objective approach is taken and that you work with your ex to find a solution without involving the lawyers.
It remains to be seen how it works out in Alaska but I suspect it will result in litigious spouses.
Anthony Jones is Head of Family Law and is a Resolution Accredited Specialist. For more information or a second opinion, please contact him on 0161 641 4555 or email email@example.com