But Who Gets Fido in the Divorce? Pet Custody Battles Could Become a Thing

cat and dog sleeping together
Legislators in Alaska have introduced a bill to protect family pets in cases of domestic violence or divorce. As people attempt to leave abusive situations, they are often manipulated into staying or become fearful of leaving because of concern for their pets’ well-being.

If made into a law, the bill will allow courts to decide who keeps pets during the divorce process, and after. Courts will make decisions based on what is best for the animal. For purposes of the law, any non-human vertebrate is considered a pet, with the exception of fish.

“Texas divorce law treats family pets like inanimate personal property such as a couch. The dog or cat is valued on what it could be sold for and not what the animal is worth emotionally to its owners,” said Greg Enos, principal attorney at The Enos Law Firm, PC. “I have had cases where spouses testified about why each should be awarded the dog and a judge had to make that decision. I have even heard of judges ordering visitation with beloved pets that live with the other spouse while a divorce is pending.”

The divorce process isn’t the only thing affected by the new bill. If signed into law, the bill requires amendments be made to domestic violence policy to include protection for family pets. Representative Liz Vasquez, one of the bill’s authors, explained to Reuters why such a bill was necessary.

“More and more animals are used by an abuser for punishment, manipulation or revenge against a victim,” Vasquez stated. “They will threaten to kill, maim or torture a pet to gain control over the family.”

Provisions for the safety of family pets will be written into protective order, granting custody of the pet to the appropriate party and helping them find safe housing.

“Victims and children would hesitate to leave an abusive relationship or abusive environment for fear of leaving behind their pets. We can stop that,” Vazquez told the New York Daily News.

The amendment would also require owners whose animals were seized for cruelty or neglect to cover the costs of their care in a shelter. The bill must be passed by April 19, or it will not be considered again until next year. There are currently 13 confirmed legislators in support of the bill.