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Could Utah expand child custody laws to include the family pet?

At present, the state of Utah provides no protections for the family pet when it comes to domestic violence or divorce. When it comes to divorce, family pets are considered property, which means that judges make decisions regarding their fate in accordance with asset division laws. However, a new law in the northernmost state of the country that now requires judges to apply rules similar to those for child custody to pets might begin persuading other states to follow suit.

For many families across the nation, including those who do not have children, their pets are an integral part of the family. The thought of the four-legged members of their families being treated like a chair or table is disheartening and perhaps disturbing. Several states do allow pets to be protected by restraining orders in domestic violence cases, but Utah is not one of them.

Alaska's new law went into effect on Jan. 17. Judges are now required to consider the best interests of the pet when deciding with which party the animal will live. Even joint custody arrangements can be ordered. Alaska already includes pets in domestic violence restraining orders, but now, alleged abusers might also be ordered to pay for the continuing care of the animal as they do for children and spouses.

Until and unless the state of Utah changes its laws, couples going through a divorce might consider attempting to come to an arrangement about their pets on their own in order to avoid the court making a decision according to property division laws. More than likely, a judge will approve the plan as part of the divorce settlement. Couples could apply the current child custody framework when creating an agreement that includes scheduling, decision-making and economic provisions when considering the futures of these non-human members of the family.

Source: The Huffington Post, "In Alaska, Divorce Courts Must Now Consider Pet Wellbeing", Hilary Hanson, Jan. 26, 2017

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