How Are Pets Handled in a Divorce?

For many California families, their pets are just as much a member of the family as their children. However, for the most part, the law has considered these beloved pets to be equivalent to property in a divorce.

This treatment will change soon with the passage of a recent law that details how dogs, cats and other family pets are handled in a divorce.

New Law for Pets

Under Assembly Bill 2274, which was written by California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, the issue of who will take care of the family pet after parties are divorced will now be handled differently. Pets will now be seen as more than just property and an asset to be “split” in property division.

As of January 1, 2019, the California Family Code Section 2605 will read:

2605. (a) 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.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, 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.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.

The new law allows a party to petition the court for sole or joint “custody” or ownership of the pet. This change was made in an effort to prevent acts of harm or cruelty and to make sure the pet was taken care of and provided food, water, shelter and veterinary care.

Unfortunately, many parties in a divorce in the past have used the family pet as a way of hurting the other party. In addition, many parties have felt that the way pets were dealt with in a divorce was entirely too cold, considering how important a pet can be to the family. Pets were previously treated as if they were an item of property that could be divided in the division of assets.

California operates as a community property state, which meant that if the pets were purchased after the parties were married, they would be considered assets that either party had an equal right to claim. If the pet was property of one spouse before they were married, that spouse could claim ownership of the pet.

Under the new law, a party can request an order that would allow him or her to care for the pet once the divorce is finalized but also before the order is final. Other similar laws have also been adopted in Alaska and Illinois.

The new law provides more guidance to how a pet should be treated in a divorce. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Quirk, an owner of a Maltese Shih tzu mix, found the old standard to be less than adequate. Like many owners, he viewed his pet as much more than an item of property, and he believed that the pet needed to be handled with more care and consideration in a divorce proceeding, which was the reason why he authored the bill.

Proponents of the bill included the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the San Diego Humane Society, who signed on in hopes that the law will lead to fewer homeless animals.

How will determining “custody” of pets be handled?

In divorce hearings, both sides will be forced to present evidence as to why they should be granted sole or joint ownership of family pets.

If one party wants sole ownership of the pet, he or she will need to produce evidence as to why that party would be the better provider for the pet. Some considerations will be who cared for the pet during the marriage, whether the parties’ minor children want the pet to live with them, who can afford the pet and the associated costs, and other considerations.

This new law takes effect in divorce proceedings starting on January 1, 2019. It remains to be seen what effect this new law will have on California family courts.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding and have questions about how custody of your pets will be handled, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.