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Maine Court Makes Pet Custody Determination


A while ago we wrote about states that were passing laws giving judges the power to make custody determinations when it comes to family pets. Recently, yet another court has made a custody determination as to a family pet.

Court in Maine Gives Custody to Animal’s Mother

This time, it is a court in Maine that was called on to decide whether a family dog would reside with its (human) mother or father. However, unlike some states which specifically allow or require courts to make determinations as to what placement is in the best interest of the animal, the Maine court did not go as far as to use that legal standard.

Rather, the Maine court opted to do what so many other courts have done in animal custody cases: To treat the dog as property. In this case, the court simply looked at whose name was on the adoption papers (the boyfriend/dad) and awarded custody of the animal to him.

This is an important lesson: Although most things that we own do not have a title on them, courts will give deference to whose name property is titled in when it comes time to determine whether property is marital or nonmarital, and how it will be divided.

Couple Fights Over Animal Custody

The girlfriend in the case says that the boyfriend is, in fact, an unfit father to the animal, citing to the fact that he kicked both of them out, leaving them homeless. Any father who did that to a human child would almost certainly be looked upon with scorn by a family court judge.

Also unlike some human custody cases, neither the boyfriend nor the girlfriend wanted any contact with each other, leaving the court without the option of shared custody or visitation. In custody cases involving human children, even parents who have no desire to interact will often need to do so in order to facilitate visitation (and the fact that a parent may not want to interact with the other parent in a custody case would be a strike against them in the eyes of a family court judge).

Laws Regarding Pet Custody

Only Alaska, Illinois and California have laws addressing custody of pets in divorce cases. In the other 47 states, judges can still make animal custody determinations, but they don’t have to; they can opt to treat them as property.

Even in the states with pet custody laws, there may have been little avenue for a court to make a custody determination, because the dog’s “parents” were unmarried. There are no states that currently require or even allow courts to treat animals as people when there is no dissolution of marriage needed.

One judge in the Maine case pondered in the written decision whether such a case is something the court should actually be spending time on. To those who see animals as part of the family, that answer would certainly be “yes.”

Our Tampa family law attorneys at The Pawlowski//Mastrilli Law Group can explain every step of the custody process to you. Call us with any questions you may have.


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