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Lawmaker seeks to treat pets as more than property in divorces

In the aftermath of a divorce, most everyone needs to be around those they love and who love them. For many of us, that includes our four-legged family members. It's no wonder that so many couples battle vigorously during the divorce proceedings over custody and visitation of their pets.

If a custody battle over children goes before a judge, that judge is required to consider what's in the bests interests of those children in making custody and visitation decisions. Generally, the same doesn't apply with pets. That's because under the law they are considered property.

This year, Alaska became the first state to implement a law that requires courts to consider "the well-being of the animal" when deciding custody and visitation matters. The Animal Legal Defense Fund called the legislation "groundbreaking and unique."

In a further recognition of the role that animals play in our families, the Alaska law also lets courts include pets in domestic violence protective orders.

Now Rhode Island State Rep. Charlene Lima, who represents Cranston, is hoping that our state will follow suit. She's introduced legislation that would require judges to consider the animals' best interests when determining custody in a divorce case.

Of course, rarely is custody determination simple -- whether your children have two legs or four. As Rep. Lima notes, "I would assume that they would look at a lot of the factors they do in custody of a child: where is the best place for it to live? Who has been the primary caretaker? Who exercises the pet and who the pet feels comfortable with?" Often, as with children, split custody may be the best option.

This wouldn't be the first bill championed by Lima or other Rhode Island lawmakers to improve the lives of animals here in Rhode Island. In fact, the ALDF ranks us fifth among all states in our animal protection laws.

If you and your spouse can't work out custody and visitation arrangements for your pets on your own and you need to take the matter to court, your Rhode Island family law attorney can help you present your case as effectively as possible to help ensure the best outcome for you and your animals.

Source: Providence Journal, "Bill seeks to give pets a voice in R.I. divorce cases," Patrick Anderson, Feb. 28, 2017

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