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Rhode Island Legislator Proposes Family Court Custody Jurisdiction for Pets in Divorce and Separation Proceedings


Animal law is a growing area throughout the United States. The lawyers at McIntyre Tate are members of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and are involved in protecting the interest of owners and their pets and animals.

Recently a Rhode Island legislator, Charlene Lima, proposed a bill to expand the division of property in divorce actions to address the custody of pets. Under current law, all animals including pets are deemed to be property of their owners. It is not uncommon in a divorce proceeding for the parties to negotiate for the assignment of ownership of animals or less frequently to arrang to share time with the animal. In one leading case in Rhode Island that McIntyre Tate was involved in several years ago, the former Chief Judge of the Family Court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem for an animal.

The new bill proposed by Representative Lima provides that “In awarding possession of a domestic animal in a divorce or separation proceeding, the court shall consider the best interest of the animal.”

This simple one sentence provision directs that a Family Court judge must award custody and possession of an animal in the same way the custody and possession of a child is awarded. Although the “best interest of the animal” is not defined by the proposed statute, under Rhode Island case law the best interests of the children are defined by various Rhode Island Supreme Court rulings.

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