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Pet Custody in a California Divorce

January 08, 2023

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Who Gets Pet Custody in a California Divorce?

Since pets are loved just like family members, custody of a pet can become a serious issue during divorce. And unlike children, pets are usually considered personal property. Determining who gets to keep the pet after the divorce must be worked out in property division negotiations.

The new pet ownership law in California aims to change this approach.

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Who Gets to Keep the Dog or Other Pets in a Divorce?

In California, as of January 1st, 2019, pets are to be treated as more than community (marital) property during a divorce. Simply put, the care, health and safety of the pet will be taken into considerations while determining pet ownership in California.

Under this new law, a judge will be able to settle disagreements over who gets the pet’s possession by considering who will be able to provide best care for the pet.

If you have decided to divorce your spouse, you can petition the court for joint or sole ownership of your cat or dog. The judge will have the authority of weighing factors such as:

  • Who adopted or purchased the pet?
  • Who spends more time with the pet?
  • Who feeds and walks the pet?
  • Who buys the food and pet toys?
  • Who takes the pet to the vet?

The answers to these specific questions will help the judge decide which spouse is a better fit to take care of the pet after the marriage is officially over. This new law also makes sure that the pet is taken care of properly while divorce proceedings are underway. You or your spouse can request an order that would require one of you to care for the pet until your divorce is finalized.

How the New Pet Ownership Law in California Works

On September 27th, 2018, the new bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, who himself is a pet owner. In addition to dogs and cats, this law extends to any animal that can be kept as a household pet. The bill states that family court judges can take into account the “care of the animal” while awarding its sole or joint custody to a spouse.

Before this law, pets were recognized as personal property and were treated as such. For example, before this new bill was passed, it wouldn’t have been unimaginable for a judge to order the pet to be sold and the profits to be split between the divorcing couple if they didn’t reach an agreement regarding the pet custody.

Fortunately, things have changed, and pets are now being recognized as individuals and not personal property like a piece of furniture. If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the judge now will have the authority to consider factors to find a solution that serves the best interests of your pet as well as yourself.

What Does This New Law Mean For Pet Owners in California?

The new pet ownership law allows the courts to view pet ownership differently than, say, the ownership of a house or a vehicle. Now the California courts will award ownership based on what is best for the pet.

The courts are now also allowed to create shared or joint ownership agreements for companion animals. In addition, the new bill enables either of the divorcing spouses to request an order where they can take care of the pet until the final ownership decision is made.

In some cases, the soon-to-be-ex-spouses are able to agree to provisions for the care and visitation of a pet. If these agreements are presented to the judge, they can become court orders that are enforceable against a non-compliant spouse.

If the spouses simply cannot reach an agreement – or if a shared ownership arrangement is not possible – the parties can request the court to decide care arrangements.

The court can also enter temporary orders to be put in place until the final arrangements are made at the end of the divorce proceedings. The judge can award joint custody or sole ownership of the pet to either spouse on a set schedule.

Keep in mind that the judge may consider which spouse has taken care of the pet in the past, which spouse feeds and plays with the pet, which spouse will be able to care for the pet in the future, and other similar deliberations that bear upon the care of the animal.

This allows divorcing spouses to prove to the court that sole ownership of the pet should be awarded due to the neglectful behavior of the other party. On the other hand, spouses also have the option to work together to arrange for the care of their pet and agree on a shared ownership schedule.

Remember, it might be best for your pet to have a future with two loving owners to whom they are equally attached. Consult with a caring and trusted California divorce lawyer for the right legal advice.

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