Pets have, for many years, been seen as part of the family in countless California homes. It seems like for every accessory you can buy for your child, you can buy something similar for your pet. With so many people devoted to their pets, it’s not surprising that pets can become contentious issues in divorce cases. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was only in January 2019 that Family Law Judges were given any guidance on how to oversee litigation involving pets.
To be clear—pets are not considered children under the law. Technically, they are still property. However, based on AB2274, California law acknowledges the “unique” space that pets take up in families. Now, like they would do in determining custody of children, Judges are to look at what is best for the pet when determining custody arrangements for them.
The law applies to any pet, defined as “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet”. AB2274 gives Judges discretion in deciding on custody arrangements of pets. The bill allows Judges to even create visitation schedules for the pet. In making a determination of the best interest of the pet, Judges are allowed to look at factors such as “Who feeds the pet? Who adopted the pet? Who purchases food, toys and other things for the pet? Who walks the pet? Who takes the pet to the vet? Who protects the pet? Who spends the most time with the pet? Have there been allegations of domestic abuse or abuse of the pet?” Before the passage of AB2274 Judges treated pets solely as property and looked almost exclusively at who paid for the animal. Now, however, Judges can take a holistic approach in determining which party or visitation schedule would create the best environment for the pet.
Preparing for divorce can be a big project and it is important to remember what issues are the most important for you. If one of those important issues is your pet, be sure to discuss petitioning for custody of your pet with your attorney. California has created a law to ensure that California pets are taken care of in a divorce, so use the law to get what’s important to you!
If you’re interested in more information about AB2274, please look at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/01/15/doggie-divorce-who-gets-the-pet-when-couples-spli