Signed into law on August 2, 2012 and effective October 31, 2012, Massachusetts now has new legislation applicable to the care and custody of domesticated animals (i.e., the family pet) in connection with abuse prevention/harassment orders, a/k/a restraining orders, issued under M.G.L. c. 209A.
In accordance with the new statutory provisions (M.G.L. c. 209A, §11), the Court is charged with the authority to award possession of a "domesticated animal" to a plaintiff/petitioner who is seeking, or who has already obtained, an abuse prevention/restraining order against their abuser. Alternatively, the Court may enter an order that provides a defendant/respondent in an abuse prevention matter must "refrain from abusing, threatening, taking, interfering with, transferring, encumbering, concealing, harming or otherwise disposing of such animal." While the term "domesticated animal" likely includes the family cat or dog, the terms themselves are not defined within the statute, and will likely be the subject in future case law as the statute is applied.
Once a plaintiff or petitioner applies for or obtains an abuse prevention order, the procedure for seeking to include a request for custody or protection of a domesticated animal is straightforward, as the Court has provided a short, self-explanatory form, titled "Petition Filed Pursuant To G.L. 209A §11 Relative To Domesticated Animals."
Practitioners and litigants alike should consider that, although the new statutory provision falls under M.G.L. c. 209A, which governs abuse prevention/restraining orders, the language of the language of the statute makes clear that these provisions also extend to, and are applicable in, other types of domestic relation cases, including those in which a temporary or permanent order to vacate, stay away, restraining or no contact order has been requested and/or issued (under M.G.L. c. 208, §18, §34B or §34C; M.G.L. c. 209, §32; or M.G.L. c. 209C §15 or §20) and harassment prevention orders requested and/or issued (under M.G.L. c. 258E.)