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What Happens to Pets in a California Divorce?

Posted on in Divorce

Los Gatos divorce attorney pet ownership85% of people with a dog, cat, or other animal companion reportedly think of themselves as pet “parents” rather than “owners.” However, divorce laws across the United States are just starting to catch up with this way of thinking. 

Illinois was one of the first states to enact legislation that specifically addresses the issue of pets in divorce. A law that took effect at the beginning of 2018 empowered Illinois judges to grant sole or joint “custody” of a pet as part of a divorce settlement and are directed to consider the well-being of the pet when making such decisions.

California has now jumped on the pet wagon with a new law that takes effect in January 2019. Rather than treat pets like a car or a piece of furniture, something that has only a financial value and must be awarded to one spouse or the other, judges will now handle family pets more like they handle child custody. 

New California Divorce Law on Pets Effective in 2019

The new California law applies to household pets that are considered community property. When a couple first files for divorce or legal separation, either spouse may ask the judge to issue an order regarding care for the pet while the legal proceedings are in progress. This initial order is to have no impact on the court’s final determination of ownership.

In the final divorce settlement, again at the request of either spouse, the court may assign either sole or joint ownership of the pet. This decision is to be based on each spouse’s involvement in caring for the pet, including the provision of food and water, veterinary care, safe and protected shelter, and prevention of harm or cruelty.

Does the Court Have to Decide Who Gets Pet Custody?

If a divorcing couple, with the help of their attorneys, can negotiate their own agreement, the court will typically approve it. An attorney skilled in divorce mediation can help a couple define a plan for sole or shared custody of a pet as part of an overall division of property agreement. The court will only step in and make decisions when parties cannot reach a solution on their own.

Other Factors to Consider in Pet Custody Decisions 

A pet can sometimes become a bone of contention in a divorce, resulting in highly contentious arguments. If your attorney takes a mediated approach, they may ask you to weigh the issue from several angles, such as:

  • Who can best afford pet care costs, considering food, treats, immunizations, medications, grooming, and boarding.
  • Who is willing to commit the time to give the pet sufficient attention, exercise, grooming, and medical care.
  • Which spouse has historically spent more time with the pet.
  • Who the couple’s children will primarily live with, and how attached they are to the pet.

Choose an Experienced Los Gatos Divorce Lawyer

Whatever complications your divorce may involve, a Los Gatos, CA divorce attorney can guide you through the process and help you reach a positive resolution. At the Law Offices of Benita Ventresca, we put the well-being of your family first and strive to solve family issues through mediation whenever possible. Contact us at 408-395-8822 to schedule your free initial consultation.


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