The issue of pet custody is increasingly becoming big news in many jurisdictions as people’s views of their relationships with pets change. A new proposed Tennessee pet custody bill could bring a pet custody and visitation law to the Smokey Mountains.
Pet Custody at its Best
Generally, when couples divorce, current law has always been that pets are treated pretty much the same as ownership of your living room couch would be – or any other piece of property for that matter. There has traditionally never been a thing called pet visitation at common law.
Two Tennessee state lawmakers are now trying to change the traditional way of dealing with pets in divorce with some new legislation. According to reports, the new bill would allow a family law judge to determine pet custody based on what’s in the best interest for the wellbeing of a pet.
Tennessee HB467/SB568 essentially states that the family law court may provide for the ownership or joint ownership of any pet or companion animal owned by the parties, taking into consideration the well-being of the animal. If passed in its current state, the act would take effect July 1, 2023.
Tennessee Representative, Caleb Hemmer, a Nashville Democrat, said he tackled the issue because custody of a pet can be a deeply emotional issue.
“For many people, pets are like family members and even cared for like children. It only makes sense for courts to treat them the same way.”
Politicians began to research passing a bill after they personally lived through the painful experience of losing custody of the family dog during a divorce.
Florida Pet Custody
I’ve written on the development of pet custody cases and statutes around the world before. Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent internationally because lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals. This is due, in part, because pet ownership has increased.
Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family. Some would argue they’re a modern couple’s new kids. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.
Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.
Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs like Florida. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation. A new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases. The law gives judges the power to consider the care and the best interest of the pet when making decisions.
According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.
Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more prevalent, particularly when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for, and are both attached to, the pet.
Smiling in the Smokey Mountains
The issue of pet custody is gaining traction around the U.S. and the world as pet ownership climbs. The COVID pandemic help to further propel pet ownership and this issue. A new Forbes Advisor survey found that an overwhelming majority of pet owners – about 78 percent – acquired their pets during the pandemic.
Already about five states and Washington D.C. have passed similar pet custody laws. The current bill proposal by Tennessee politicians Hemmer and Yarbro applies to any pet owned by a married couple.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has repeatedly reported that there’s been an ever increase in arguments over pet custody in recent years. Additionally, the drafters of the Tennessee bill want more jurisdictions to pass pet custody laws.
The Axios Nashville article is here.