Protecting the Family Pet in Family Law Disputes

In family law disputes involving domestic violence, human family members are often not the only victims. Many states now allow pets to be included in domestic violence protection orders, with Massachusetts being the most recent. On August 2, 2012, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law Bill S.2192: An Act Further Regulating Animal Control, and the new law became effective on October 31, 2012. Among other provisions relating to animal control, the law provides:

SECTION 50. Chapter 209A of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

Section 11. (a) Whenever the court issues a temporary or permanent vacate, stay away, restraining or no contact order or a judgment under section 18, 34B or 34C of chapter 208, or under section 32 of chapter 209, or under section 3, 4 or 5 of this chapter, or under section 15 or 20 of chapter 209C, or under section 3 to 7, inclusive, of chapter 258E or a temporary restraining order or preliminary or permanent injunction relative to a domestic relations, child custody, domestic abuse or abuse prevention proceeding, the court may order the possession, care and control of any domesticated animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or held by either party or a minor child residing in the household to the plaintiff or petitioner. The court may order the defendant to refrain from abusing, threatening, taking, interfering with, transferring, encumbering, concealing, harming or otherwise disposing of such animal.

(b) A party to any proceeding listed in subsection (a) may petition the court for an order authorized by said subsection (a).

(c) Whenever the court issues a warrant for a violation of a temporary or permanent vacate, stay away, restraining or no contact order or a judgment issued under section 18, 34B or 34C of chapter 208, or under section 32 of chapter 209, or under section 3, 4 or 5 of this chapter, or under section 15 or 20 of chapter 209C, or section 3 to 7, inclusive, of chapter 258E or otherwise becomes aware that an outstanding warrant for such a violation has been issued against a person before the court, the judge may make a finding, based upon the totality of the circumstances, as to whether there exists an imminent threat of bodily injury to any party to such judgment or the petitioner of any such protective order, a member of the petitioner’s family or household or to a domesticated animal belonging to the petitioner or to a member of the petitioner’s family or household. If the court makes a finding that such an imminent threat of bodily injury to a person or domesticated animal exists, the court shall notify the appropriate law enforcement officials of such finding and the law enforcement officials shall take all necessary actions to execute any such outstanding warrant as soon as is practicable.

In layman’s terms, when somebody goes to court seeking abuse prevention orders, they can now ask the judge to also issue a protective order for a dog or other household pet that might be at risk. This is an important legal development that recognizes the harm pets often face when living in hostile homes, and allows people to seek the court’s help in preventing that harm.