Our pets and divorce saga continues. Today we have a tale from the state of Washington that continues this trend. A couple that separated in 2018 owned two dogs together: Kona and Mr. Bear. At the time, they co-parented the dogs extensively, texting each other schedules, grooming appointments, trainings, and social outings. Throughout the divorce proceedings, both parties emphasized how important the dogs were to them, and how important it was for the dogs not to be split up. Ultimately, the Husband got the dogs, but the Wife got a visitation schedule. Husband wanted to remove those visitation provisions, the court denied, and he appealed to the court of appeals. Husband won, and the visitation provisions were struck out.
We’ve written previously on states that have recently enacted laws to determine who should get the dogs, applying a test close in nature to the test for custody of children. While those states determine who should get the dog, they may not have touched upon visitation for the noncustodial owner. Washington state decided that a visitation schedule was not in line with how property is treated, especially property that is distributed in divorce proceedings. Nothing in Washington law “empowers the trial court to compel a party to produce their separate property for the use and enjoyment of another.”
It seems that pets and divorce is becoming quite a common issue in the courts. As previously mentioned, some states have new laws that allows a court to make certain determinations for “custody” of a pet. Some of those states may welcome a custodial schedule or visitation rights. There are groups out there, like legal defense funds, that are seeking more robust laws to determine rights to pets in divorce proceedings. In North Carolina, pets are still considered property. A court would be unlikely to grant or condone a custodial schedule for them. Private agreements may cover this gap. It is clear at this moment that Washington state courts will not allow a trial court to craft a custodial/visitation schedule for a pet because the pet is property. We now wait to see if the legislature will make the change.