Out: prenups. In: petnups

We don’t know yet whether or not congressional Democrats plan on saying that dogs and cats qualify as infrastructure, but in several states, they may be taking one small step closer to being considered people. The crux of the story deals with the unfortunate situation of married couples who are getting divorced. Whenever there are children involved, custody frequently becomes a messy situation as anyone who has been through it can tell you. But what about pets? Adopting an animal and raising it together has many parallels to the experience of raising children. But determining custody of pets is handled differently because pets are considered to be property. That’s changing, however, as more and more couples have an attorney draw up a “petnup,” specifying who will retain custody of the animal in the event of a divorce. (Associated Press)

In the eyes of the law, pets are property when it comes to divorce, but new ways of working out custody of the dog, cat or parrot have sprung up with special mediators and “petnups” to avoid courtroom disputes.

Alaska, California and Illinois are among states that have enacted laws giving judges leeway to consider the best interests of pets, not unlike what they do for children. A bill is pending in New York state to take the same approach.

“Someone’s cat or someone’s dog is a part of their family and should not be treated like a piece of furniture or their Honda Civic,” said Sen. James Skoufis, chief sponsor of the New York measure and proud dad to a cat named Ruth, for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Three states have already enacted laws dealing with this issue. A similar bill has already passed in the New York state senate and is expected to pass in the Assembly. What the bill would do is amend the current domestic relations law by adding a new paragraph which will read, “In awarding the possession of a companion animal, the court shall consider the best interest of such animal. ‘Companion animal,’ as used in this subparagraph, shall have the same meaning as in subdivision five of section three hundred fifty of the Agriculture and Markets Law.”

So, is this a good idea or are we just making divorces even more messy than they often wind up being? Speaking as a lifelong pet owner, I like the sound of this. I’m sure that the majority of you who own dogs or cats already think of them as a member of the family, so why wouldn’t we want to ensure that their welfare is taken into consideration during divorce proceedings?

But at the same time, we’re not talking about an exact parallel with child custody disputes. The requirements for continuing to care for a dog or a cat (particularly a cat) are far less stringent than caring for a human child. Also, the total expenses are generally much lower. (Not that you could tell by looking at our veterinary bills, but you get the point.) There would need to be some serious issues with your lifestyle if a court determined that you couldn’t even be trusted to keep your pet’s food and water dishes filled.

Speaking of costs, if states are officially adopting the idea of pet “custody” as it relates to divorce, will they next be adding “pet support?” Imagine having to send money to your ex every month to ensure the care and feeding of your former pet. I find it at least mildly worrying that these types of changes to our marriage laws might make couples more reluctant to adopt an animal out of concern over what it might cost them if the marriage doesn’t work out.

But don’t let that stop you. There are still animals in the shelters waiting to find a home. And whatever you do, please don’t be one of the many people who adopted a pet to get them through the pandemic but are now dumping them back into the shelters after going back to work. Ask yourself if you would drop your child off at an orphanage under similar circumstances. Adopt, don’t shop, etc.