A married couple getting a divorce is a common thing that happens in the United States. As a result, issues of community property (who gets what in the separation settlement) and child custody disputes arise. However, how do couples go through with fighting over custody of their other family members, specifically their beloved pets? In the past, courts have looked at pets as personal property, with some given exceptions to farm animals or service pets. However, as time progresses, more lawmakers and advocacy groups have formed to promote rulings that favor the best interests of the animals themselves. Many courts in the past have given rulings similar to those given in child custodies. These include giving the pet owners shared custody, visitation rights, and different amounts of alimony payments to the prospective owners. Some states have even allowed these people to entrust their estates or trusts to care for their pets that have been left behind.
In a case that happened in San Diego, CA, a pointer-greyhound dog mix was the subject of a custody dispute between a Dr. Stanley Perkins and his ex wife, Linda Perkins. The court initially gave the Perkins’ joint custody of their greyhound mix Gigi, but it resulted in neither party being satisfied with the results. As a result, a simple dispute that should have been resolved after an initial court ruling led to a case that lasted two years to resolve and a price tag of over $150,000 in legal fees. The court had to issue a “bonding study” order that involved an animal behaviorist and a recorded video created by Linda Perkins titled “A Day in the Life of Gigi” demonstrating how the greyhound spent its time with Mrs. Perkins. The animal behaviorist was used to determine that the dog was much “happier” with Linda rather than Dr. Stanley Perkins, and she received sole custody of the dog in the end.
The idea of actual pet-custody legislation came to physical fruition in the state of Alaska this year. The state allowed its courts to consider the animal’s well-being when determining who the pet would go to in a separation. The measure defines “animals” as a “vertebrate living creature not a human being.” The next state most likely to implement pet-custody statutes could be Rhode Island. Charlene Lima, a State House of Representatives member, has been introducing pet-custody statutes formatted similarly to that of Alaska’s.