Divorce Judges in Rhode Island consider animals like other personal property. If the parties cannot work out an arrangement, and there is a dispute, a Judge can award the family pet to one of the parties.
A State Representative has introduced a bill for consideration in 2017 that would require Judges to take into account the "best interests of the animal". Rep. Charlene Lima believes that "we need a Judge to consider them and to make the best decision for the welfare of the animal". Apparently, Alaska became the first state to add the interests of pets into divorce law.
In determining the best interests of a child, the court considers many factors, including the wishes of a parent, the child's preference, the child's interactions with other family members, the child's adjustment to home, school and community, and the willingness and ablity of each parent to facilitate a close and continuous parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
One wonders how a Judge may determine some of these factors. How do you determine an animal's preference? In a child custody dispute, a full review may involve speaking with the child, both parents, teachers and therapists; who does one speak to about an animal? Does the family vet become the new expert witness? Is it based upon who walks the family dog and cleans up the mess from the lawn?
What factors will a Judge use to determine visitation? If there are children, does the animal stay with a child as he/she does back and forth on visitation? Will there be two visitation schedules in divorces with children and animals?
From "Bill could give pets voice in divorce cases". By Patrick Anderson, Journal State House Bureau, Providence Journal, March 1, 2017