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California Law Counts Pets as Family, Not Property, During and After Divorce Proceedings

For years, pet owners have had to hash out the details of who gets their prized pooch, beloved cat, or other cherished animals during a divorce on their own, which is to say without the court’s involvement.

Pets have long been considered family members by those who own and love them — and have been highly-emotional and long-disputed segments of separations for countless divorcing couples. From a legal standpoint, pets have simply not been an issue for the California Family Courts to determine. Until now.

Thanks to the California Assemblyman, Bill Quirk, a Democrat from Hayward, Assembly Bill 2274 was written, introduced, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018, granting California judges the authority to settle disagreements over who keeps the family pet(s) during and after a divorce.

What Does This Mean for Divorcing Couples With Pets in California?

The new law will allow the legal handling of the pets’ futures to mirror that of custody disputes. Before, pets were considered family property garnering as little of the court’s interest as a treadmill might. This left pets to be part of the couple’s asset distribution process, where community property, which is property obtained during the marriage, is divided equitably between the couple.

What’s more is that the judge can take the pet’s best interests and care into consideration while the proceedings are underway, awarding their custody to one person until the divorce is finalized.

Weighted factors that may be taken into consideration to rule on the pet’s custody can include who:

  • Feeds the pet
  • Takes the pet to the vet
  • Walks or exercises the pet, when applicable
  • Protects the pet from harm

Can Couples Who Are Pursuing a Divorce Petition for Joint Custody of Family Pets?

When the new law took effect on January 1, 2019, divorcing couples became able to petition the court for sole or joint custody of the pet, which will be based on the animal’s current care.

This care is defined to include the:

  • Prevention of acts of harm or cruelty
  • Provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter

Visitation rights can be awarded, allowing the person who does not receive primary custody of the pet to still be involved, and spend time with the much-loved animal during designated days and times.

If you have questions about your relationship and your options in dissolving a marriage, with or without pets, contact our experienced Los Angeles divorce attorney at Whitmarsh Family Law today at (310) 853-5499 to discuss your personal and unique needs.

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Los Angeles, CA 90067
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