Pets and Divorce in Alabama

Divorce is a tough situation for almost everyone. Even when the split is amicable and property division is agreed upon, there are certain things that can quickly turn the process contentious. The custody of pets is one such issue. No one wants to leave their beloved pet behind, after all, and both parties are likely to have deep emotional attachments to the animal in question. For many, the custody of pets can lead to a stalemate in the divorce process. Luckily, there are new laws that might make the allocation of pets much easier.

Alaska, Divorce Proceedings, and Pet Custody
Alaska is the state that has been paving the way for fair pet custody. Beginning at the start of January in 2017, Alaskan law recognized a new law that requires courts to consider the well-being of animals when dividing property in a divorce. Additionally, they have a House Bill (147) that allows judges presiding over a divorce to award joint custody of pets during a divorce hearing.

These are the first such laws of their kind. Until they were passed, local and federal governments classified pets as “property” to be divided along with the rest of a couple’s assets. Now, many lawmakers are taking another look at the plight of animals (and owners) caught up in a divorce. This can be seen in a flurry of relatively new bills that have been introduced following the passage of Alaska’s new regulation. Rhode Island, for example, is considering a bill similar to House Bill 147, and a variety of cities across the country – including Berkeley, Hollywood, San Francisco, Amherst, West Hollywood, and Boulder – have enacted new ordinances that alter a pet owner’s status to “guardian”. This effectively makes pets part of a family rather than property.

Alabama, Divorce Proceedings, and Pet Custody
The new pet laws described above have yet to come to Alabama, where pets are still considered personal property by the law. As such, they are allocated according to equitable distribution. If the pet in question is one that a certain member of the marriage acquired before they were married, then they receive ownership of the pet after the marriage is dissolved. If the pet is one that was acquired after the couple was married, then its ownership is determined according to the facts presented during the divorce hearing.

Many couples will attempt to find an agreeable arrangement for the allocation of their pets rather than allowing the courts to determine the owner. These agreements might be formal or informal. It is important to speak with your attorney regarding your pets and allow them to guide you through the agreement process.

Pet Custody Considerations
Are you trying to decide who could best care for your pet in the event of a divorce? There are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, make sure that you are putting the welfare of the pet first. It is easy to become emotional when faced with the prospect of “giving up” your pet, however you must consider what option is in their best interests. Is shared custody a realistic option for your pet’s needs and temperament? Is one spouse bonded with the pet more than the other? Also keep in mind the environments in which the animals will thrive. If you have an active dog, will one spouse have a property better suited to their welfare than others?

Another consideration when it comes to pet custody is the destination of any children. Most pets tend to follow children’s’ placement schedules. This might mean that, if joint custody is awarded, that the pet moves between households. It might also mean that the pet goes with the parent who is awarded primary custody. If there are no children to consider, then perhaps a visitation schedule between the divorcing couple could be implemented. If so, it is a good idea to write out the visitation specifics in order to ensure that no disagreements arise in the future.

Finally, make sure that the financial needs of the animal are met. Pets can be expensive! They need food, healthcare, toys, and sometimes daily medication. It might be a good idea, then, to work out the person who is best able to provide for the needs of the pet on a financial level. That individual might be responsible for making medical decisions regarding the pet.

If you are facing a divorce and are concerned about who will be awarded custody of your pets, never fear! There are things you can do to ensure that your pet is cared for well. Please call our office and setup an appointment to talk with Clyde Riley, an experienced attorney that can help!