Divorce and family law are constantly evolving legal areas. While some of the legislative changes affecting matrimonial laws are updates to outdated laws or are intended to address other changing issues that may be impacted by divorce, many arise from a pivot in societal views. This is especially true when it comes to family animals and divorce.
While dogs, cats, and other animals have long been cherished by humans, they are often seen today as critical parts of the family unit. They may bring years of joy and companionship to individuals and their loved ones, thus they can be a major point of contention during the divorce process. In fact, the growing role of pets in American families and the relationships owners have with their pets have introduced a unique legal area within divorce and family law – pet custody.
At Boudreaux|Hunter & Associates, LLC, our Houston divorce lawyers have established ourselves on the forefront of this new and growing part of family law. We have worked with numerous individuals and families throughout Texas who had intractable bonds with their furry friends. Because our role as divorce attorneys is to provide our clients with the counsel and representation in order to make informed decisions that protect what matters most to them, we know that includes protecting their relationship with their pets.
Pet Custody Trends in Divorce
Here are a few important developments in terms of pet custody and divorce:
- A survey of divorce attorneys conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found a 27% increase in cases involving pet custody between 2009 and 2014. During that same period, nearly a quarter of survey respondents noted increases in cases involving judges that deemed pets as assets in a divorce.
- While dogs and cats make up the bulk of pet custody cases, there have been documented cases involving all types of pets, from birds and reptiles to exotic animals.
- In 2017, Alaska became the first U.S. state to enact pet custody legislation that allows courts to consider a pet’s well-being when making determinations about custody, similar to how they handle child custody cases. Efforts to support similar legislation in other states is steadily growing.
How Our Firm Fights for Pet Owners
Despite being pet custody an evolving legal area, there exist numerous divorces involving spouses who have pets. When handling these cases for Texas pet owners, the BH Law team knows that courts typically view pets as assets which are subject to property division. This places them in the same category as any other piece of personal property. The fact that owners have meaningful attachments to their pets, not to mention there are laws outlining how animals are to be treated (which shows an understanding of their well-being), often places the family pet squarely in the center argument.
Although pet custody cases can be resolved out-of-court through negotiation and compromise, there may be some cases when such resolutions aren’t possible, or when challenges make agreements more difficult to come by. This may be true in cases where the pursuit of pet ownership is sought as a means of retribution or leverage against a spouse, when spouses are simply unable to agree, when neglect or abuse is involved, or even when pets arguably carry more “value” – not just emotionally, but also economically as a result of being a show animal, pure breed, performance animal, rare, or exotic animal. We address these issues and other factors to help courts determine who will have custody of their pets.
At Boudreaux|Hunter & Associates, LLC, our legal team is well aware that pets are more than just personal property. They are part of the family and there exist powerful bonds with their owners. If you would like more information about pet custody or any other aspect of Texas divorce cases, please contact us for an initial consultation.