How Family Pets Are Handled in a California Divorce

In most courtrooms, man’s best friend is treated the same way as man’s side table. That is harsh but true: no matter how important a pet is to a family, most Judges will not treat it like an equal member. However, a recent change in California law may signal a shift in that line of thinking.

Over the last two decades, pet custody battles have been on the rise. It makes complete sense: pets are often considered a regular part of people’s family. In a divorce, no one wants to split their family up. Some couples even call their animals children and are extremely passionate about them. So when two divorcing spouses both want to keep the dog, who gets it?

In forty-seven of the fifty American states, pets are treated the same as all communal property in a divorce. While it can sound harsh, a pet’s custody is determined the same as a rocking chair’s custody. If there is a dispute, the Judge will ask who owned it prior to the marriage. If it was bought during the marriage, whoever spent the most time taking care of it will typically end up owning it.

In 2019, California followed Alaska and Illinois’s lead and signed a new pet custody law into effect. This law still considers pets property rather than humans (which, sure, is fair) but it brings the way their custody is determined more in line with how the custody of a child is determined. It acknowledges the place within the family unit that pets hold and seeks to make sure they end up in the right home.

In California now, Judges will assign either sole or joint custody of the family pet. They will determine this custody schedule by examining what is in the best interest of the pet. This means that, like children, the Judge really tries to determine what is best for the well-being and future of the pet when it is caught between two loving parents. It is no longer a case of who took care of it most in the past – it is a look into who is the most capable to take care of it in the future.

When determining pet custody, a California Judge considers the following factors before making their ruling:

  • Who is registered as the owner?
  • Whose new home offers the most space for the pet?
  • Who is most emotionally connected to the pet?
  • Who typically feeds the pet?
  • Who typically exercises the pet?
  • Who typically takes the pet to the vet?
  • Is the pet more emotionally connected to one parent?
  • Whose new living situation is most accommodating to pets?

At KL Family Law, we know that pets are an important part of your family. If you are going through a divorce, contact KL Family Law today to help take care of your family. We believe in helping families move forward with compassion and integrity!

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KL Family Law

At KL Family Law, we understand that your primary concern is the well-being of your children. We strive to offer tailored solutions for your family law needs and help you move forward through this difficult transition.

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