STATE NEWS: New Alaska Law Changes Pet Status During Divorce

February 1, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

In Alaska, pets will no longer be treated like property in divorce cases. Now, they’ll be treated more like children.

Pets now have legal protection in cases of divorce and domestic violence in Alaska.

An amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes that took effect earlier this month requires courts in the state to take into consideration the well-being of family pets in a divorce case. The amendment also empowers judges to assign joint custody of pets, just as they would children.

Many people consider their pets to be part of their family, and sometimes even one of their children. That’s why divorcing people struggle over custody, visitation, and financial support for their furry companions. Most divorce laws throughout the country, however, are designed to address only the interests of children.

Alaska is the first state in the country to pass this type of amendment, potentially evolving the social status of animals everywhere.

David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law, says this new amendment is significant. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property.”

The amendment was sponsored by former state representative Liz Vazquez (R) and the late representative Mark Gruenberg (D). “Our pets are members of our families,” Vazquez said in a statement about the amendment in 2016. “[We] represent people, real human beings, many of whom have pets they love as much as their friends and family.”

This new amendment also allows courts in Alaska to include pets in domestic violence protective orders and requires owners with pets that were seized in cruelty or neglect cases to cover costs of living in a shelter.