New Alaska Divorce Law Promises to Treat Animals & Pets Almost like Children

Alaska Legislators do not think of pets as property the way pets are thought of in other jurisdictions. A recent law officially makes Alaska the first state to give special rights to family pets in a divorce action. The law seems to give judges enormous discretion, though not unlimited discretion in the sense that it only seems to allow judges to award “joint custody” of the pet. For example, the Washington Post on the issue:

It makes Alaska the first state in the country to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal” and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets. In a blog post, the Animal Legal Defense Fund called the well-being provision “groundbreaking and unique.”

The standard seems to be that used for children “best interest of the animal”:

“It is significant,” said David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners.”

But it is not just a question of who will get custody of a pet. The law also provides protection for pets in the context of domestic violence:

The Alaska bill also allows courts to include pets in domestic violence protective orders and requires the owners of pets seized in cruelty or neglect cases to cover the cost of their shelter.