Dogs and cats now have significant rights if they are involved in either a contentious divorce or a case of domestic abuse in the state of Alaska. The Alaska legislature passed groundbreaking legislation that went into effect in January, 2017.
It provides that instead of treating animals (pets excluding fish) like property, judges must consider the welfare of the animal when making decisions about division of property. In other words, a dog is not like a table or an antique rug. A cat is not like a set of dishes or a bed. The animals who live with us and are loved by us are now treated as living creatures worthy of special treatment in a divorce.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, in a recent post, commented on the new legislation:
“While the amendments regarding domestic violence protection and costs of care are important steps forward for companion animals in Alaska, the provision requiring consideration of animals’ well-being when deciding their legal ownership is groundbreaking and unique. Even though judges throughout the US can already choose, in their discretion, to consider an animal’s best interests, no other state legislature has required judges to do so when adjudicating property distribution upon the dissolution of a marriage.”
Alaska also passed an amendment that protects pets in cases of domestic violence. Judges are now legally able to include household pets in restraining orders. Abusers can also be required to pay support for pets in the care of those who have been abused.
This is an important amendment because many victims of domestic abuse will not leave the home because they have no place to go with their pets, and often the abuser threatens the family pet with abuse or death if the victim leaves. Many other states have laws similar to this one protecting animals in domestic violence situations.
In Alaska, dogs and cats should be celebrating, as should those who love them.