Under current law, “you can have a piece of furniture, a piece of art, your grandmother’s china, your wedding set, whatever — it’s seen as a dog, or a cat, or a rabbit,” Griffiths said, “or any other animal.”
“For a lot of people, you can’t put a price on your favorite dog or cat with whom you have a special relationship, since if someone buys an expensive car in marriage, you can obviously put a price tag on it. But someone might be willing to say: “I want the dog or the cat because I really love them and couldn’t care less about the more expensive item.”
Griffiths hasn’t had any situations where the husband has confiscated the Audi convertible to keep the family dog, but she said it likely happened on a smaller scale.
Under the proposed change, a judge could “award ownership” to one party, or order joint ownership with responsibility for “veterinary or other extraordinary expenses.”
In addition to who can best care for the pet, the judge can take into account “the bond between the companion animal and each of the parties”, as well as “the time and effort each party has spent” with the animal and attention to its needs during the marriage. .
If the animal’s circumstances change significantly after the divorce, the parties can petition family court for “sole proprietorship” based on the pet’s welfare.
Griffiths stressed that although a judge can decide where the animal lives and who should pay for its care, the bill does not come close to treating animals like children in divorce cases. “This is not the same as detention,” Griffiths said. “It’s just the realization that pets are different from other things and possessions acquired in marriage.”
Judge Rangi emphasized that under Delaware law, pets are considered property. “But it is a unique form of ownership. So I think this proves that they are unique and that they have different considerations to apply,” Ranji said.
Griffith said she expects the Senate to pass the legislation, and for Governor John Carney to sign it.
Sen. Nicole Burr, a Democrat from the Bear District, is the lead sponsor of the bill that would allow petitioners in the Protection from Abuse Action to include harmful actions against a pet or service animal.
According to Burr, “Our pets are members of our family. Oftentimes, pets can be caught in the middle of family conflicts or used as tools of manipulation or abuse,” adding that the bill gives “the family court the power to treat violence against animals as a red flag.” …and keep pets away from abusers.”
Ranji noted that the legislation also gives judges the right to award vulnerable pets to the petitioning party in PFA orders. “Or you can make arrangements with the shelters to hold them until you can get more permanent housing,” she said.
Senator Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat, is the lead sponsor of the mandatory reporting bill.
“Injury to an animal is often a precursor to violence against a child, spouse, or intimate partner,” Hansen said. “Social workers and caseworkers can play key roles in cross-reporting animal abuse and human violence.”
Rangi said she can even anticipate joint operations between child abuse investigators and animal abuse investigators.
Ranji said such cooperation could “help assess risks and deflect risks from that family”. “Because if you don’t remove the animals in this case, they just sit there as a tool to harm the human victims as well.”