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Proposed Bill Would Allow Judges to Consider Pets’ Best Interests In Rhode Island Divorces

Currently, pets are treated as property in divorces. However, a bill proposed in last year’s legislative session of the Rhode Island state government would change that. Though it has stalled in committee, the bill would allow judges to consider the best interests of the animal when pets are involved in a divorce. If you are considering a divorce and there is a pet involved, you should contact a skilled Rhode Island divorce attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you argue that you are entitled to the pet under state law, whether under the current law or this one if it passes next session.

Pets in Divorce

Many of us consider our pets part of our family. Rhode Island (and other state courts) take a different approach, however. The current law considers pets as property, not much different than a car or painting. Occasionally, judges presiding over a divorce will look at who is more bonded to the pet and more capable of taking care of it to decide who should keep the pet. While judges have the discretion to take this approach, in many cases the judge will use a traditional property analysis to determine who gets to keep the pet.

So what will the court look at under current law? The first step with any property is to determine whether it is marital property or separate property. If one party owned the pet before the marriage, then the pet will most likely be awarded to that party. (However, a skilled Rhode Island divorce attorney may be able to argue otherwise, depending on your own personal circumstances.) If the pet was acquired during the marriage, then the court is likely to place a monetary value on the pet. Then, the party who ends up not keeping the pet would be granted an amount of property that is of similar value to the pet so that there is an equitable distribution. For example, if a dog is found to be worth $2,000, then the party who keeps the dog will likely have to give up $2,000 worth of other property to make the distribution equal.

Best Interests of the Pet

In 2017, Rhode Island State Representative Charlene Lima introduced a bill that would allow courts to consider the “best interests of the pet” during a divorce. The judge in the case would have a lot of discretion to decide who the best owner would be. Presumably, the judge would look at things like who has the best residence for a dog, who will have the kids, and who can provide the best care. The bill has stalled in committee, but it may be on the legislative agenda for next year.


Under current Rhode Island law a pet is property and the judge won’t usually award any kind of visitation, as it would be akin to ordering visitation of a TV or car in the eyes of the law. That doesn’t mean that the parties can’t agree to visitation or other split custody arrangements. A court may not necessarily enforce the agreement, however.

Contact an Experienced Rhode Island Divorce Attorney Today!

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you may have questions about how your property will be divided up. The experienced attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, can help to answer your questions about divorce and advocate for you in court. Call us today at (401) 300-4055 or use the contact form on this website for your free consultation.

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