With more than half of households in America having at least one pet, it is no surprise that what happens to a family pet when a couple gets divorced is becoming a bigger and bigger issue with each passing year. The American Veterinary Medical Association indicates that at least 80% of pet owners consider their furry friends to be part of the family, not simply a piece of property that they own. 

Individual state laws popping up 

A marital divorce generally must follow the laws of the state in which the couple gets divorced. Pew Trusts indicates that since 2017, two states have had laws on the books that outline provisions for how to assign custody of a dog or other pet in a divorce. Alaska and Illinois were the first to enact this type of legislation, followed by California in 2019. The California law gave guidance to judges on how to determine pet custody. Criteria to be evaluated in these cases included identifying who provided veterinary care for the pet, who walked the dog, who fed the pet, who cleaned the cat litter box and other such tasks associated with pet ownership. 

Time magazine reported earlier this year that the District of Columbia, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are said to be considering some form of pet custody laws as well. 

A fundamental mindset shift 

Many people believe the rise in pet custody disputes during a divorce reflects a shift away from a society in which a pet, particularly a dog, was regarded for the work it would do to a society in which a pet is valued for something far deeper and more meaningful.