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Dogs and Divorce in California

Dear Clients and Friends,

In January 2019, a new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases.

Under Family code section 2605 California courts must now view pet ownership differently from other possessions.This new law gives judges the power to consider the care and the best interest of the pet (or companion animal) when making decisions in separation or divorce matters.

Pet custody can become as contentious in a divorce as the custody of children. That’s why in some states, like California, Alaska and Illinois, courts consider the pet’s best interests, similar to how they resolve child custody issues. In most states, however, pets are considered property, which means a divorce judge may well decide who gets the family dog the same way he or she decides who gets the house, the car, the living room sofa, the wedding china or any other asset that’s part of the marital estate.

But a dog or cat has physical and emotional needs that a pool table or patio set doesn’t have, so you may not want to risk your pet being equitably distributed like an inanimate object. To address this concern, “petnup” agreements between partners or spouses that lay out what happens if the couple breaks up have become increasingly popular.

The key consideration is custody. Joint custody seems like it would make sense if both spouses are equally close to the pet. But many pet experts say this isn’t a great idea since the instability of shuttling between homes can cause behavioral issues in animals. Instead, primary custody with one spouse with visitation rights for the other might be a better option.

Another consideration is whether you have kids and if they’re attached to the pet. If so, it may be in the kids’ own best interest for the pet to reside in the place of primary physical custody.

If the pet truly matters, you should make sure the agreement is written in a way that will carry out your wishes and hold up in court - we can help you with this and any of your other family law needs. We look forward to hearing from you.



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