Pets and Divorce in Connecticut: Family Members or Things?
I was in law school when I discovered that, in the eyes of the law at least, animals are property. Our legal tradition is binary in that there are two primary approaches to how we classify — “persons” and “things.” Animals, I learned, are treated as things, and, more specifically, as the property of persons.
Our non-attorney clients don’t get to learn that animals are things in the comfort of a classroom like I did. Many find out in the context of their divorce, and, sadly, often at the painful moment when they and their spouse are trying to decide how to handle the family dog (or cat, or pot-bellied pig).
This comes as no surprise to us at Freed Marcroft. As divorce and family lawyers, we are very aware that most people treat their pets as members of their families. Heck, we do it ourselves. We have even had clients who found us through the twitter account of our beloved law firm dog Daphne, @thatlawyerdog.
Dividing Pets Like Property
In a divorce, a court divides “things,” or orders “things” sold and the proceeds divided. It doesn’t set up visitation schedules for toasters, or snowblowers, or perfectly restored ’57 Chevy Delrays. But many couples do not want their pets lumped in with the “property division” portion of their divorce. They want a more nuanced arrangement when it comes to their pets, such as shared custody, visitation, sharing of pet expenses like food and vet bills, and even monetary support.
Alaska Has Amended Divorce Statutes to Allow Joint Custody of Pets
This is such a big issue that laws are beginning to change. In January, Alaska amended its divorce statutes as to how pets are treated in the context of divorce. According to the Washington Post, that made “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.”
Rhode Island Poised to Be Next
Our next door neighbor Rhode Island hopes to be next. Charlene Lima, a Rhode Island State Representative (and owner of Keiko, a Husky) has introduced legislation similar to Alaska’s. The New York Times reports that “Ms. Lima’s bill says that a judge ‘shall consider the best interest of the animal’ in a divorce or separation. Ms. Lima said she planned to introduce specific guidelines to be considered, such as which spouse most cared for the animal and took it to the vet, and whose lifestyle was best suited to pet ownership.”
How Do We Treat Pets in Connecticut?
Connecticut, like most of the country, still treats pets as property in the divorce context. That said, when parties have reached an agreement that falls within judicial authority, some judges have incorporated agreements with provisions allowing for shared time with pets and shared pet expenses into their court orders.
We Live in Connecticut and Pets are a Priority, What Should We Do?
In our experience at Freed Marcroft, divorcing spouses are far more likely to get more progressive approaches to addressing pets when there is an agreement than they are when they cannot agree and ask a judge to make a decision. This means that many pet owners choose to use mediation or collaborative law as opposed to traditional litigation as their approach to divorce. Both share the goal of reaching creative resolutions outside of court. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about the best ways to prioritize your pets during your divorce.
“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.”
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