Attorney Heberg was interviewed by WJAR News regarding Rhode Island’s bill aimed to settle pet custody after marriages dissolve. Attorney Heberg said he sees these cases all the time. Read on to learn how Rhode Island courts may determine custody of your family pet in your divorce.

Proposed bill aims to settle pet custody after marriages dissolve

January 7, 2020 – By Lynzi DeLuccia – PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WJAR News) — Divorce can be dicey, especially when there are children involved. But what about pets? There’s a proposed law in Rhode Island addressing just that, and it has pet owners talking.

“A dog knows where it wants to go,” one Coventry woman told NBC 10 News. “I know where my dog would go: with me.”

But it’s not always that easy. If a marriage crumbles, who gets custody of a pet?

“I would hope that we would go back and forth and he would still have both of us because he is like our child,” pet owner Elisabeth Brock said.

Bob Wilson said his dog from a previous marriage went with his wife.

“I was working, she was out on the road and went with him everywhere, so it made sense,” Wilson told NBC 10.

Janice Brown divorced years ago and took her pets with her.

“I know animals are sometimes a casualty in divorces so it’s maybe a good idea to have something in place if people can’t work it out in a friendly way,” Brown said.

That’s why state Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, said she introduced the bill in 2019.

“They utilize the pets saying they want the pet as collateral to get other things out of the other person,” Lima told NBC 10 over the phone.

She broke down what the judge would look at: Whose lifestyle accommodates the pet, who had the pet first, who’s the primary caregiver of the pet, takes the pet to the doctors, and feeds the pet, among many other things.

Lima said family court has resisted the bill, but she feels more confident going into this legislative session.

Attorney Christopher Heberg said he sees these cases all the time. He said mostly, they’re resolved on their own, but they’re very similar to child custody cases.

“While it may sound crazy to people, we deal with the circumstance all the time, so it’s maybe not the worst thing in the world because it does give us a map so to speak, the guidelines on how to deal with these things,” Heberg said.

The legislation does say this would not apply to “service animals.” Heberg suggests that language could be made more specific to prevent problems if the bill were to pass.