We love our dogs in Vancouver. For many (maybe most) dog owners, their dogs are part of the family just as much as their spouse and children. But when it comes to divorce, Washington state law does not treat dogs like people.
As we have discussed before in this blog, like most states, Washington treats dogs and other pets like chattel in divorce. “Chattel” is a legal term for personal property. Therefore, there is no such thing as a legal order for sharing “dog custody” in Washington.
The state Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed this in a case in which a woman going through divorce wanted visitation rights to see her two dogs. The woman and her former husband owned two dogs. In court filings, each party referred to the dogs as their “babies,” which shows how emotionally attached each of them is with the animals.
The family court judge ruled that the ex-husband would keep the dogs as part of the community property division. But the court granted visitation time three days a week to the ex-wife, continuing an arrangement the couple began when they first separated. The ex-husband later appealed, and the Court of Appeals ruled that it was inappropriate for the lower court to apply child custody law to dogs.
Some states have started to shift toward creating pet custody. But Washington is not one of them. If you want to share custody of a dog with your ex, you can make that arrangement part of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. Otherwise, you can make an informal arrangement with your ex, but if they change their mind, you cannot go to court to get them to comply.