While California divorce laws covered the specifics of how divorce works in the state, they don’t take into consideration who gets the dog after divorce. That changed as of January 1, 2019 due to a law signed by former California governor, Jerry Brown. This allows judges in divorce cases to use “special assessments” to determine pet custody after divorce in contested cases. The law outlines the criteria that judges can use to determine what is in the best interest of the pet or pets in question.
According to Section 2605 of the California Family Code a “pet animal” is any animal that is community property and that is kept as a household pet. While dogs are the most disputed animal with cats coming in second, horses, birds, and even snakes have been involved in custody disputes between their owners.
The California law permits judges in divorces to take the following issues into consideration when rendering a decision regarding pet custody:
- Who feeds the pet?
- Who adopted the pet?
- Who walks the pet?
- Who purchases food, toys and other things for the pet?
- Who takes the pet to the vet?
- Who protects the pet?
- Who spends the most time with the pet?
- Have there been any allegations of domestic abuse or abuse of the pet?
Is custody an option?
Assembly Bill 2274 permits the court to decide about pet custody after divorce. Courts can assign sole ownership or joint ownership of the pet, taking into consideration the care of the pet. “Care” of the pet includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
Under the new statute, pet visitation rights for the non-custodial ex-spouse may also be established when sole custody of the family pet is ordered by the court. A pet may also be placed in the custody of one of the divorcing spouses while their divorce is pending, before the final determination is made regarding pet custody after the divorce.
Divorcing with Pets
When couples cannot reach a determination as to how to resolve issues in divorce, they typically participate in a contested divorce. At Buncher Family Law, we develop a plan to achieve each client’s goals. Sometimes this is accomplished through negotiation outside the courtroom. Other times, issues, such as pet custody, are determined by a judge after reviewing all the evidence and hearing each side’s position.
Oftentimes custody decisions can be as controversial as child custody. Because let’s face it; for most of us our pets are family members. Asset division, debt division and the valuation of property are often formulaic in nature. But how do you apply a formula to who gets to keep the beloved family pet? This is why Section 2056 of the California Family Law Code encourages courts to consider the pets’ best interest.
Alternatives to Court Settled Disputes
While many cases involving pets are litigated, there are more amicable options which can save the divorcing spouses a significant amount of money, time, and aggravation. It can also allow the couple to determine what’s in the best interest for their family, including children and pets.
Divorce mediation allows a couple to determine what’s in the best interest for their family, inclusive of the children and pets. It is a more amicable way to divorce that will assist a couple in avoiding the financial as well as the emotional costs of a litigated divorce.
At Buncher Family Law, our attorneys are experienced in dealing with all the various types of divorce from mediation to high asset litigation. There is no one size fits all approach for divorce, which is why you want to review all of your options and develop the right plan for your family.