Pets are family to most couples in the U.S. Pets are especially common in households of the newest generations of married people. Millennials and Generation Xers spend more on pets than older generations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During a divorce, what will happen to pets is often a leading question among couples. The answer can vary from state to state according to property division laws since pets are technically property in the eyes of most lawmakers. A new California law, however, changes that.
Pets: Family or Property?
In the past, California courts applied the state’s property division laws to pets during divorce cases. California is a community property state, meaning the courts will divide property evenly if the couple cannot decide themselves. The courts would not previously consider pet welfare or fault when determining who gets to keep the pet. The pet would simply go to one spouse as if it were a piece of property.
Now, this rule has changed. Thanks to a new pet custody bill, California no longer uses its property division laws to determine pet ownership. Instead, it treats pet custody more like child custody. Judges in California will listen to both sides and determine pet custody based on the best interests of the pet. This is a major step forward in animal welfare, as this can ensure the pet goes to a stable, safe and loving home, rather than ending up with a negligent owner – or sold for proceeds in a divorce settlement.
Details of the New California Law
For decades, people have seen their pets as part of the family. Now, California law has caught up with common perception. The new law, Assembly Bill 2274, authorizes the court to assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet in consideration of the level of care the animal would receive. A judge may now consider several factors when determining appropriate pet custody.
- Who took primary care of the pet
- Who purchased or adopted the pet
- Who paid for veterinary bills
- Who the pet is emotionally attached to
- Where the pet might prefer to live
- What is best for the pet
The new law applies only to community property pets, or pets acquired as a couple during the marriage. If one person came into the marriage owning the pet, the pet will not be part of community property and will go to the original owner. The law also only applies to animals kept as household pets. The new law provides important guidance to the courts to determine pet ownership as more of a custody matter than a property one.
What You Should Do as a Pet Owner During a Divorce
California’s law could help you during a divorce case if you are the primary caregiver for your pet and wish to win sole custody. Instead of the state’s community property law applying to your pet, you and your lawyer will have the opportunity to state your case for full pet ownership. If you are entering divorce proceedings with a pet, hire a lawyer for your best odds of securing a positive case outcome.
If the courts grant you sole pet ownership, your ex-spouse will have no legal rights to the pet. It will be up to you whether to grant visitation. If a judge assigns joint custody, however, you and your spouse must comply with the specifications of the court order. You will have the right to take your spouse to court if he or she breaches the ownership order, such as refusing to let you have the pet when it is your time or moving out of state with the pet without notice. An attorney can help you with pet custody battles, modifications and issues you may encounter down the road.