Law Letter

The custody of pets in the case of divorce

Divorces commonly lead to disagreements between two parties regarding the division of property and the custody of children. A much rarely talked about issue of divorce is, who gets to keep the pets? A couple that has spent even a few years together may share a degree of care for their pet, which they believe has been an integral part of their family.

With reference to the English Law, courts have always viewed pets as property. This technically means that pets are not seen as any different from tables or couches. However, valuing emotional attachments of people and their pets, a recent shift in the perspective is being visible in the United States. Meaning, judges are actually considering the well-being of the pets, prior to deciding which party to award custody to.

Alaska was the first state to have started the trend, with regulations in place. As other states have followed, factors many courts presently consider to decide the awardees are worth looking into.

Simply having ownership title over a pet does not guarantee custody! According to the new guidance passed as recently as the first day of 2018, New York Courts now consider how a pet was cared for, when a couple was together, and which of the two persons specifically provided such care. Meaning, finding out the primary caregiver has become the main motive.

Provided a couple has a child, the relationship between the child and the pet is taken into account by a court in order to make arrangements for pet time-sharing. If a parent is located where the child is most often likely to reside, the court is prone to awarding that parent, the custody of the pet.

Although the same standards of child custody do not apply in the case of pet custody, the available laws so far, delineates the pet from being considered solely personal property that represents a part of the marital estate, depending on assessment and division in the time of divorce.

Taking into account the best interest of the pets obviously have limitations. To what extent can laws be dragged? Would judges now use their calibres in understanding what pet turtles should actually be at the receiving end of, and what would be best for them? Also, divorced couples may feud for the custody of pets for so long that, considering the pets life span, it may not be worth it.

Things have started moving for the rights of animals in our country in the recent past. The first case filed over animal abuse as per the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920 was during the middle of the year 2016. Imprisonment of up to three months can be given to one accused of cruelty.

Groups such as Obhoyaronno and PAW Foundation have lately emerged as active fighters ensuring the welfare of animals. Considering The Daily Star's report of 2017 regarding divorce being doubled and separations tripled over the past one decade, it is perhaps time for these groups to consider extending their noble jobs to prepare or demand a guideline regarding the custody of pet animals, since providing the best possible life to a pet from a broken family falls within the purview of animal welfare as well.

The cabinet has recently approved the draft of Animal Welfare Act, which protects vertebrate animals, including pets and domestic animals from cruel treatment. The draft Act proposes a maximum of two-year imprisonment and a fine of Tk 50,000/- for killing an animal. It also mentions six-month jail time and Tk 10,000/- fine for cruelty towards animals. This draft Act has been praised to be an inclusive one, however, conceivably a provision regarding the custody of pets in case of divorce in the draft Act would be a commendable step in making the law a more comprehensive and a timely one.


Saquib Rahman & Himaloya Saha

Lecturers of the Department of Law at

North South University


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