The well-being of a pet would be added to custody considerations in D.C. divorce cases if a new bill stays on track to become law.
An omnibus bill before the D.C. Council would add the best interests of the pet alongside other considerations during their owners’ divorce hearings, such as who bought the animal and who covers daily costs, according to The Washington Post.
Joint custody of pets would also be considered, much in the same way a judge does when determining the custody of children.
Animal rights advocates say it’s a migration away from the dated lens of viewing pets solely as property instead more as members of the family. Similar laws are already in place in Alaska, California and Illinois.
“We’ve seen it come up in actual cases, where animals are being used as bargaining chips, where the best interest of the animals are not being considered,” Alicia Prygoski, the strategic legislative affairs manager at George Washington University Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, told The Post. “So there is definitely a need for this and it elevates their legal status to better reflect how we see animals, that they are sentient beings.”
Brent Cashatt, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told the newspaper that he’s curious to see how judges screen for animal welfare in court. According to Psychology Today, in 38% of divorce proceedings involving dog owners, neither party wanted to give up their pet.
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The bill, formally called the “Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act of 2021,” passed unanimously at its first reading last week. It awaits a final reading by the D.C. Council before it goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk to be signed into law.