Separating from your spouse is difficult. Deciding who your dog or cat will live with makes it much harder.
Anyone who has a pet or has had one in the past knows that we treat our pets as part of the family.
Until recently, the DC courts treated pets like furniture.
A welcome change to the law occurred in April of 2023 when a new law was passed in the District of Columbia that allows a Judge in DC to consider who a pet should live with while a divorce is in process and after a divorce is awarded.
The law is called the “Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act.” The determination of who should have your pet while your divorce is pending may not be the same as the Judge’s final decision as to who your pet will live with on a permanent basis. A Judge can determine that the parties to a divorce should have joint custody of their pet and may order a time-sharing arrangement or a Judge may determine that one person should have full custody.
The DC Code section (16-910 (3) was amended to include this change in the law.
16-910 (3) At the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.
In order for a Judge to make a determination about your pet one person must specifically request that the court do so in their divorce documents. The new law does not set out specific guidelines for the Judge to use in making a determination. It leaves the issue up to the Judge to determine based on the evidence presented.
If you are having a dispute with your spouse or if you expect an issue to arise related to your dog, cat or other household pet it is best to speak with a DC Divorce lawyer to discuss the different options you have for resolving the issue.
It is always best to try to resolve the issue without having to ask the court to decide for you.