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Alaska Takes Lead in Recognizing Pets as More Than Property

By Michael Gordon, Esq.

Recognizing that many families treat pets as family members, Alaska has amended its divorce rules to consider the wellbeing of pets understanding that many people love them as much as their friends and family. The Alaska statute not only recognizes pets as “children” in divorce actions but also in domestic violence protective orders.

Under the new rules, unlike other property, the Alaskan courts will now be concerned with the pets’ wellbeing requiring the courts to consider custody, including joint custody, support and maintenance, including the costs of their shelter if a pet should be seized for cruelty or neglect.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund refers to the new legislation as “ground breaking and unique.” A Michigan State University law professor in the area of animal law was quoted as saying “for the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property.” Under the new rule, the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the pet, not the owner.

It will be interesting to watch as other states now consider similar legislation. Now that there is precedent, you can see this cause being picked up rapidly.

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Michael Gordon is a partner at Wright, Constable & Skeen in its Estates & Trusts Practice Group. Actively involved in animal welfare matters, Mr. Gordon is a published writer on planning for the future care of pets and other matters related to your pets and the law.