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New Law Could Change How Divorce Effects Pets

Gene Kirzhner Sept. 18, 2017

In many families, pets are like children. And yet, those “children” get no say in divorce cases. They don’t end up going to the owner who has their best interest at heart. Instead, they often end up in the home of someone who only wanted them to spite their partner. Soon, that should change. A new law could change the way that the court handles animals in divorce cases.

The Change

In Rhode Island, the state representative Charlene Lima wants to change the way that judges consider pets in divorce cases. Instead of treating them more like property, she wants judges to put the best interest of the pet at heart.

Currently, Rhode Island views pets as property in divorce cases. The state does not consider who would be a better owner, or what the pet wants. As a result, the pet often ends up in a less than ideal home. This change in legislation could make it so that pets get homed with the right owner. A judge would give the pet to whoever would put his best interests first.

Charlene Lima started this campaign because she noticed a flaw in the system. She believed that animals deserved to have fair treatment, as did their owners. As a living creature, a pet isn’t property. It’s a part of the family.

The History

Lima wasn’t the first person to campaign for animal rights during a divorce. In Alaska, they issued a similar law. The state became the first to stop treating pets as property. With a strong interest in animal welfare, it should be no surprise that Rhode Island isn’t far behind. For years, lawmakers have been making a push to protect animal rights. According to the Animal League Defense Fund, the state ranks as the fifth best state for protecting animals. The push to legalize this bill only confirms that statistic.

This isn’t Lima’s first attempt to make a big change. Last year, she helped to pass a bill that allowed dogs to stay in outdoor seating areas of state restaurants (as long as an owner is present). Thanks to her work, dog owners can better appreciate the company of their pets. Her husky was one of the reasons she decided to embark on the journey.

How Will Pets Be Affected?

While this law is certainly good news for pets, it doesn’t mean that every pet will go to the right owner. The term “best interest” is a loose term. You can see it happen in child custody cases. There is no way to be certain how a judge will rule. If you and your partner can’t decide on your own custody arrangement, it’s up to the court to decide. And this means that a judge will look at a variety of factors and try to determine which parent is the best interest of the child.

Like everything else in divorce cases, the results of your pet dispute depend on a number of factors. First, there’s the judge. Every judge has tendencies to rule a certain way. While one judge might see you as a better pet parent, another judge could see your partner as a better parent for your pet. The judge will look at your specific situation and make the decision based on his opinion.

Likewise, your legal representation can make a difference. If you have a lawyer who can make you out to be the better option, then you have a good chance at getting your pet. On the other hand, poor legal representation could result in your partner getting possession of your pet.

Another important factor is your own circumstances. For example, a judge might consider which individual bought the pet in the first place. Another consideration could be the amount of time each individual spends with the pet. If you spend a lot of time traveling without your pet, a judge may hold it against you.

Improving the Situation for PETS

Although there are no guarantees that the best owner will get the pet, this legislation is a step in the right direction. Pets aren’t property that can be divided. They are a part of your family, and they deserve special consideration. With this bill, pets can go to the home that they deserve.

Of course, the new legislation won’t mean anything if you don’t have good legal representation. A divorce can destroy your life if you don’t have someone to stand up for you. You can end up losing your home, your pets, and more. There’s a lot at stake. Before you embark on your divorce, do the research and find a great divorce lawyer. Even if the pet legislation doesn’t pass, your lawyer may be able to help. He may be able to make sure that you get your pet and your family stays together.