It was just a few days ago that I posted about the status of pets in divorce. I said that family law has a rigid view of pets as property and that people in divorce just need to get accustomed to that. Now comes word that Alaska is making a liar of me.
As of a week or so ago, Alaska is now the first state to require courts to “take into consideration the well being of the animal.” It also gives judges discretion to order joint custody of pets. Here’s the article about it in the Washington Post.
My dog is curled up at my feet as I write this, and both my wife and I enjoy hanging out with him. So I get the deep emotional connection both spouses in a marriage often have with their pets. My concern is that every issue in divorce takes time for the judge and court staff to address. Time to read the pleadings, time to hear the testimony and argument, time to make a decision, and time to write the order. If we want the judge to spend more time addressing the needs and well-being of Horace the golden retriever, and if we don’t accompany our demand with the willingness to support higher taxes to hire more lawyers and staff, we are by definition saying we want judges and staff to take time away from the other issues of divorce, like retirement plans, alimony, and the well-being of children.
Judges almost unanimously say their decisions would be better and their lives more pleasant if they didn’t need to deal with such a crushing workload every working day. The Alaska statute, perhaps without intending to, will make this problem worse.