Feb 6, 2023 - News

Deciding who gets the family pet in a divorce

A dog

A dog named Pito. Photo: Omer Taha Cetin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When Tennessee couples divorce, current law dictates that custody of the family pet is treated pretty much the same as ownership of the living room couch or any other piece of property.

Driving the news: Two state lawmakers are seeking to change that with new legislation that would allow a judge to determine pet custody based on what's in the best interest for the wellbeing of a pet.

What he's saying: Rep. Caleb Hemmer, a Nashville Democrat, tells Axios he tackled the issue because custody of a pet can be a deeply emotional issue.

  • "For many people, pets are like family members and even cared for like children," he says. "It only makes sense for courts to treat them the same way."

Details: The issue of pet custody was brought to Hemmer and fellow sponsor Sen. Jeff Yarbro, also a Nashville Democrat, by constituent Tim Shrum, who tells Axios he began researching the issue after living through the painful experience of losing custody of his family's dog during a divorce.

  • The issue is gaining traction. Washington, D.C., and five states have passed similar laws.
  • The proposal by Hemmer and Yarbro applies to any pet owned by a married couple.

State of play: Brent Cashatt, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, tells the Washington Post there's been an increase in arguments over pet custody in recent years.

  • Cashatt told the Post he wants more jurisdictions to pass such laws.
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