Is Family Law Going to the Dogs?

And cats? And goldfish? In Alaska, the divorce laws were recently amended to provide that courts can consider the well-being of the animal in making an award of custody of the pet. The law is one of the first in the country to do so and is being hailed as groundbreaking.

In Texas, pets are still considered to be property, Strickland v. Medlen, and are treated as such in a divorce. However, under the Texas Family Code, a protective order can include a provision prohibiting a person found to have committed family violence from harming, threatening, or interfering with the care, custody, or control of a pet, companion animal, or assistance animal in the care of a person, family, or household member protected by the order.

This protective language has been incorporated into the Dallas County Standing Order Regarding Children, Pets, Property and Conduct of The Parties which applies in all family law cases filed there. Other counties in Texas have also included this language in their “standing orders”.

In addition to prenups, postnups, and no nups, parties can enter into “pet nups” to specifically provide for the rights and responsibilities they will each have in regard to their pet in the event they are no longer living under the same roof.

With society’s changing attitude that pets are not property but family, this is an emerging area of family law and other states, including Texas, may follow Alaska’s lead in this area.