An odd place to address pet custody

Posted Wednesday, October 13th, 2021 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Equitable Distribution/Property Division, Jurisprudence, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Specific

As it currently stands, South Carolina property law does not distinguish pets from livestock–or even inanimate objects. While everyone expects the South Carolina legislature to eventually address how to “equitably divide” pets as part of marital dissolution cases, and for the appellate courts to address it if the legislature doesn’t, so far the legislature has not done so.

I participated in my first pet custody/visitation hearing today. The hearing judge noted that the legislature had changed South Carolina’s Protection from Domestic Abuse statute in 2014 to address pets. This was something I was heretofore unaware of. But indeed it did.

The 2014 amendments to S.C. Code § 20-4-60(C) added subsections involving “pet animals.” Upon a finding of domestic abuse, the family court is now authorized to provide the petitioner possession of a “pet animal,” which includes the authority to order law enforcement to assist in obtaining the pet. It further authorizes the family court to prohibit the domestic abuser from harming or harassing the pet if the petitioner or family or household member has “owned, possessed, kept, or held” the pet or “if the petitioner has a demonstrated interest in the pet animal.”

The law generally lags culture. Pet “custody” is an obvious example of that. Americans spend billions of dollars on pet care and treat their pets like members of the family–some even referring to their pets as their “fur babies.” Yet property law doesn’t distinguish Fido from a Tyson Farms chicken (or even from a cathode-ray tube television).

Odd that the first family law statute to recognize folks’ emotional attachment to pets is in a domestic abuse statute.

5 thoughts on An odd place to address pet custody

  1. Parties don’t understand that Judges spend their days making hard decisions about the lives on human children, some of whom are injured, abused or being sentenced to DJJ custody. Spending half a day on fluffy could really get someone hurt if the court runs out of patience. I’ve always worked very hard to avoid pet custody controversies in Family Court.

  2. Anthony B O'Neill, Sr. says:

    The legislature got that one right. My dog Goody is a constant. He is the only member of the family who never causes me to question his total commitment and loyalty. He follows me upstairs, to my man cave, when I retire for the evening so does he. To deprive me of his society would be abuse to Goody and to me.

  3. Dana Adkins says:

    I wasn’t aware of this statute either. Happy to see the legislature recognizing the pets as more than just property.

  4. “Doggedly” excited to see pets being treated as the loyalty they are in our lives ?

  5. MJ Goodwin says:

    As a part-time prosecutor for longer than I care to remember, I will say that abusers often threaten, hurt or even kill pets in their efforts to control the other partner. So I think it is a logical place to start with this type of legislation. Thanks for pointing it out. MJ

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