Pets and divorce has always been a touchy subject – what are animal custody rights, and who has them?
Now, thanks to a new law that kicked off on January 1, 2019, pet parents can rejoice: Pets don’t have to be treated like property in a divorce settlement any longer.
Pets and Divorce: Animal Custody Rights in California
The new law, Assembly Bill 2274, added pets into the California Family Code. It says, “The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.”
It also says that the courts can assign sole or joint ownership of a pet – kind-of like custody – so that an animal who’s considered community property can enjoy the companionship of both parties after the divorce or separation.
What About Support and Service Animals?
The law doesn’t really apply to support animals or service animals, because those are typically assigned to a person based on his or her need – they’re there to assist the person, so they go with them during a divorce.
How to Get Custody of Pets in Divorce
You and your spouse are free to reach your own agreements regarding pet custody during your divorce. If you can’t agree on pet custody or other important issues, your attorney might suggest that you work with a mediator – that way, you can reach agreements without fighting things out in court.
Related: What is divorce mediation?
Many people decide based on what’s best for the pet. For example, if one of you is moving to a small apartment with no backyard space and the other one is staying in the marital home (where there is a yard and your pet is already comfortable), you might decide that your pet can visit with the other pet-parent but live primarily in the marital home.
If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement on your own or through mediation, the judge in your case will end up making the decision. The judge might decide that you share custody, particularly if you both show serious attachment to the pet, or he or she might decide that the pet should stay in one home and one home only.
The factors a judge will most likely look at include what’s best for the pet, too – like yard space or an established home. Moving around can be traumatic for animals, just like it is for humans.
The judge will also look each party’s ability to provide proper care for the pet. Pet care, according to the new law, includes (but isn’t limited to):
- The prevention of acts of harm or cruelty
- The provision of food and water
- The provision of a safe and protected shelter
- The provision of veterinary care
Animal Custody Rights in California
Before this law passed, getting custody of a pet in divorce was a little different. Pets were treated as property and divided like any other property – just like televisions, cars and the family china set you got at your wedding. Now, though, pet parents have animal custody rights that enable them to do what’s best for their pets.
Do You Need to Talk to a Stockton Divorce Lawyer About Pets and Divorce or Animal Custody Rights?
If you’re splitting from your spouse but share pets, we can help you reach a resolution that’s fair to everyone.
Call us at 209-546-6870 to schedule a consultation with a caring, compassionate and knowledgeable divorce attorney in Stockton right now. We’ll answer your questions about child custody and child support, property division and more.