Sabelhaus Lynch, PLLC

More states adopting ‘pet custody’ laws

To many Texans, dogs and cats are not just pets – they are members of the family. Even if you have children, you may feel the same way about your own beloved dog or cat (or other animal if you are a bit unconventional).

Unfortunately, the love we share for our “fur babies” can make divorce proceedings especially difficult. Unlike children, whose care and wellbeing are governed by comprehensive child custody laws, Texas has no such laws for how to address pets in a divorce. In the eyes of the law, dogs and cats are simply property, like a couch or a set of dishes. But in states around the country, there is widespread support for adopting pet custody laws that would treat pets more like human kids.

According to news reports, California enacted such a law at the beginning of 2019. It gives judges the authority (but not the mandate) to consider the best interests of the animal when its owners are getting a divorce. The “best interest” standard is used in basically every state when it comes to child custody matters (referred to as conservatorship here in Texas).

So what is in a pet’s best interests? Owners who want custody of a dog could provide evidence of who most often feeds it, walks it, plays with it and takes it to the vet. It is no longer just a standard of proving which spouse physically purchased or adopted the animal.

Two other states (Alaska and Illinois) have laws addressing pet custody – specifically the “best interests” standard. But people are so passionate about their pets that other states will almost certainly consider similar legislation.

Will Texas ever do the same? And should we?

Whether or not you are a pet owner, a divorce is difficult for the whole family. The reassuring news is that working with an experienced family law attorney can make a significant difference in your divorce experience and the outcome of your case.

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