Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce?

Custody battles over animals have been on the rise in recent years, reflecting the important role animals play in people’s lives and families. A 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that more than 25 percent of respondents had seen an increase in pet custody cases during the previous five years, and 22 percent noted that courts are more frequently allowing these cases.

Previously dogs were treated as property during the divorce in California and the majority of other states. However, California has finally evolved and now treats pets like family members and not property to be divided up. Before the new law, determining which spouse would keep the family pet would complicate the division of property and disregard which spouse the pet preferred. California’s New “Pet Custody” law differentiates companion animals from other types of property. On September 27, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2274, which empowers California courts to take into consideration “the care of the pet animal” in cases of marital dissolution or legal separation.

“The signing of AB 2274 makes clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal.”

–California Assembly member Bill Quirk

According to California Family Code Section 2605:

(a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, before the final determination of the ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties shall not impact the court’s final determination of the ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

Under this new rule, individuals are allowed to petition for custody of a pet. The judges who look at these petitions will be allowed to consider who primarily cared for the pet when determining sole ownership, or if the couple should have joint custody of the animal. A judge may inquire, for instance, who walked the dog the most, who took the cat to their appointments at the vet, who fed the bunny its meals every day, or which spouse purchased the horse in the first place.

You can now petition the court for sole or joint ownership based on the care of the pet, which is defined to include “prevention of acts of harm or cruelty” and “the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.” The law also adds a new ability for a person in the divorce to request an order that would require one person in the marriage to care for the pet before the divorce becoming final.
Aloha Divorce loves all animals. We realize that pets are part of your family, and we can help you gain split or full custody of your furry loved one.

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