Pet Custody In California After A Divorce

It’s a sure sign that we love our four-legged companions. We spend about $40 billion a year on our pets here in the U.S., where over 179 million pets belong to more than 70 million families. But what is the fate of a family pet when a divorce, separation, or annulment splits up a family?

In a general sense, the answer to that question was provided in September 2018, when Assembly Bill 2274 was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown. The law gives judges the discretion to decide who gets the pets in divorce cases. Courts can decide on joint or sole ownership for a pet.

What Are The Other Provisions of The New Animal Custody Law?

Under the new statute, visitation rights may also be established for the “non-custodial” ex-spouse when sole custody of the family pet is ordered.

What does the new law say? It says that “the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.”

A pet may also be placed in the custody of one of the divorcing spouses while the divorce is pending and before the final fate of the pet is determined by the court. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2019. Currently, however:

  1. Judges in divorce cases have no guidance from the law regarding pets.
  2. In a divorce, pets are considered “community property.”
  3. Judges in divorce cases often have to be innovative when dealing with pets.

How Have California Divorce Court Judges Handled Pets In The Past?

Sometimes, judges have simply placed a pet between the two divorcing spouses to see who the pet moved toward first. When the divorcing spouses own more than one pet, judges in divorce cases have often recommended splitting up the pets.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) introduced Assembly Bill 2274. Quirk says family pets deserve legal status as family members, although no language in the new law compels our state’s judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property.

Quirk explained to the San Diego Union-Tribune that “as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”

Are Pets “Community” Property?

Typically in a California divorce, “community property” – anything acquired by married persons in the course of the marriage – is equally divided.

But now, rather than having a pet considered merely as property, the pet’s well-being will also be taken into account. Comparable laws are also now in effect in Illinois and Alaska.

Many married couples are now including a provision for pet custody and visitation rights in their prenuptial agreements. Having your pet’s custody legally determined in a prenuptial agreement is the only certain way to avoid a pet-related dispute in a divorce.

When Is A Dispute Over A Pet Almost Unavoidable?

When both partners have a special affection for a pet – and when they have no prenuptial agreement – a dispute during the divorce is almost unavoidable, and when the spouses have no offspring, the connection to a pet may be even more emotional.

Sometimes in a divorce, when a dispute emerges regarding a pet, the dispute may actually be about another, underlying issue. Nancy Peterson, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the U.S., suggests that “the pet may become a symbol of power and control” in a divorce proceeding.

Divorcing spouses who don’t want a judge deciding the fate of their four-legged friends can reach their own agreements voluntarily, and in most cases, the court will “sign off” on a voluntary agreement.

A divorce is never easy, but when divorcing spouses in California can agree about the custody of the pets or about any other potentially divisive issue, they can save themselves substantial money, time, and aggravation.

How Can Divorce Law Firms Help Me Get Legal Custody of A Dog?

If you and your spouse own one or more pets, and you are divorcing in California, you’re going to need legal help immediately. Before you take any other steps, speak to an experienced divorce attorney as early as possible.

A court battle over a pet can be costly and emotionally exhausting, but reputable custody lawyers can fight for you and your pet, explain to the court why you should be awarded custody of your pet, and work to minimize any acrimony or emotional damage.

Contact Our Orange County Pet Custody Attorneys Today

To learn more and to obtain the legal help you may need, speak to a reputable pet custody lawyer from our law firm, Sarieh Law Offices. Having a good attorney’s help is your right, and if you’re divorcing in California, it’s help that you are very much going to need.