Who gets the family pet in a divorce?
If you live in California, starting on January 1, 2019, things are about to change. A new law passed on October 1st of this year, Assembly Bill 2274, will treat pets as more than simply community property to be argued over in the separation of assets. Instead, when couples split up, the current and future welfare of the pet will be taken into consideration. Under the new law, a judge will have the authority to settle disagreements over who keeps the family pet the same way they currently handle a child-custody dispute – by making a determination of who will be best able to care for the pet.
Starting next year, an individual can petition the court for sole or joint ownership of their dog or cat. The presiding judge will have the discretion of weighing such factors as who will be best able to feed the pet, take them to the vet and on walks, and protect them. The new law also ensures that the care of a pet will be taken into consideration while divorce proceedings are underway. Either person in the divorce can request an order that would require one person in the marriage to care for the pet prior to the divorce becoming final.
Previously, pets were considered “Community Property” in California
In a divorce, community property is typically divided equally between the couple. Previous to the new law, a pet that was acquired during a marriage would be treated like any other property and end up with one person after the divorce. No consideration was given to what was best for the pet. Judges sometimes had to get very creative in reaching an agreement when both sides said they couldn’t bear to part with their pet, even though it was clear who could provided the best care for the pet.
Are there any downsides to the law?
Possibly. The new law provides more ways that divorcing couples can litigate one another. Trying to determine who can best care for the pet before awarding custody will tie up additional court time and resources, since the court may have to delve more deeply into each member of the couple’s personal situation. And, family law attorneys will need to be able to provide their clients with sound advice on how to best pursue a pet custody claim.
If you are considering divorce and want to learn more about Assembly Bill 2274 or discuss strategies for pursuing a pet custody claim, please contact our office for a consultation.
Attorney Christina Sherman is a Marin County CA family law attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist, specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues.
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