In Maryland divorce cases, pets acquired during the marriage are considered personal property. This means that current law entitles the court to determine ownership and nothing more. Not matters more suited to a member of the family, such as custody, visitation, financial support, or extraordinary expenses. To many, a pet is a beloved, constant companion and family member. The law has not kept up with the reality of the relationships between pets and their caregivers.
There are signs of progress. In 2011, the domestic violence law changed, empowering the court to award “temporary possession of any pet” in temporary and final protective orders. Reference to “possession”, instead of “custody”, is consistent with treatment of pets as property (as compared with “custody” used in reference to children). While a step in the right direction, this relief is limited to domestic violence cases and unavailable (for now) in divorce.