Pet Custody in California: What You Need to Know

In the past, the courts viewed furry companions simply as possessions during divorce proceedings. This meant they were treated like furniture, jewelry, or a car and divided based on their monetary value.  

However, a welcome change occurred in California law in January 2019.  

Recognizing the deep emotional bonds between people and their animal companions, the law now prioritizes the well-being of the animal when determining custody in divorce proceedings.

This article will discuss how this law changed how pet custody is handled in a California divorce. We will also explore the importance of legal representation for pet custody during a divorce. 

Treating Pets as Living Beings 

Prior to the new law, in legal terms, pets were considered personal property, assets that could be owned, bought, or sold, similar to any other personal possession. However, as living beings, pets are now recognized for their sentience and unique needs, warranting consideration of their well-being and interests in legal decisions, particularly in custody disputes. 

This shift from viewing pets solely as property to recognizing their status as living entities is a significant evolution in legal perspectives. If you are facing a divorce in California and share a beloved pet, understanding these new pet custody laws is crucial to ensuring a smooth and fair outcome for everyone involved, including your furry friend.

New California Law on Pet Custody

As mentioned above, California’s pet custody laws underwent a significant shift in January 2019. California is the third state, following Alaska (in 2016) and Illinois (in 2017), to prioritize the well-being of companion animals during a divorce.

This shift emphasizes the importance of the pet’s best interest rather than viewing them as mere assets to be divided. Here are the key aspects of this new law:

  • Pets as More Than Property — Unlike in the past, pets are no longer divided based on monetary value. The law acknowledges the deep emotional connection between owners and their animal companions.
  • Focus on Emotional Bonds — The court now considers the emotional bond each owner has with the pet when making custody decisions. This recognizes the importance of a stable and loving environment for the animal’s well-being.
  • Pet’s Welfare Takes Priority—The court’s central focus is now on what living situation best serves the pet’s needs. This can involve factors like living space, the ability to provide proper care, and established routines for the animal(s).

The Court’s Role in Pet Custody Decisions

California’s pet custody laws draw similarities to child custody arrangements. Just as a child’s best interests are paramount, the court prioritizes the pet’s well-being when determining custody.

To determine the most suitable custody arrangement for a pet, California courts consider several factors:

  • Living Situation — The court will evaluate the living situation of each owner, including factors like available space, pet-friendliness of the residence, and proximity to walking areas or other amenities important for the pet’s well-being.
  • Ability to Care for Needs Each owner’s ability to provide for the pet’s daily needs, such as food, exercise, and veterinary care, will be considered.
  • Ownership and Caretaking History — The court might consider who adopted or purchased the pet and who has been primarily responsible for its care throughout the relationship.
  • Emotional Bond Evidence demonstrating the emotional bond between each owner and the pet can be presented to the court. This might include things like photos, videos, or even testimony from friends or family.

Determining Custody Arrangements: Who Gets the Pets?

California’s new pet custody laws empower couples to explore various arrangements that prioritize their pet’s well-being. Here are some options to consider:

  • Sole Custody With One Owner This arrangement grants primary care and responsibility for the pet to one partner. This might be suitable if one owner can demonstrably provide a more stable or appropriate living environment that caters to the pet’s specific needs.
  • Shared Custody With Visitation Schedule  Similar to child custody arrangements, shared custody allows both partners to maintain a connection with the pet. This can involve dividing the pet’s time with each owner, potentially with a designated visitation schedule and clear communication about caretaking responsibilities during each period.
  • Mediation to Reach an Agreement Mediation provides a neutral space for couples to discuss and negotiate a pet custody arrangement that works for everyone involved, especially the pet. A mediator can facilitate communication, help identify solutions, and guide the couple toward a mutually agreeable plan.

Seeking legal advice is crucial in pet custody cases to navigate the complexities of the law effectively. A family law attorney can provide valuable guidance on the factors courts consider, help present a strong case regarding the pet’s best interests, and strategize the best approach based on individual circumstances. Their expertise can be instrumental in achieving a favorable outcome in these emotionally charged disputes. 

Facing Divorce with a Pet? The Gorski Firm Can Help

We understand that family law matters can be extremely overwhelming. Divorce is complex, especially when children and pets are involved. Our Bakersfield, California-certified family law specialists are well-versed in the nuances of California’s divorce laws, including child and pet custody. We fight for fair and compassionate outcomes, prioritizing both your needs and your pet’s well-being.

Minimize Conflict, Maximize Solutions

We focus on minimizing conflict through professional conduct and an assertive yet considerate approach. We help our clients establish appropriate boundaries when dealing with their spouses and guide them toward practical solutions that prioritize both their needs and the well-being of their pet(s).

Protecting All Family Members

When children and pets are involved, we recognize the impact of divorce on them. We strive to create effective custodial arrangements that serve their best interests and advocate for co-parenting solutions whenever possible.

Cost-Effective Representation

We understand that legal representation costs matter to everyone. We maintain open communication about legal expenses, provide projected costs, and explore alternative options.

Contact Us Today

Don’t wait to get the legal guidance you deserve. Contact us today for a consultation. Our experienced divorce attorneys are here to answer your questions and help you navigate the complexities of your case with compassion and expertise.

We will fight to ensure a fair and compassionate outcome that prioritizes both your needs and the well-being of your furry family members.

Written by Vincent A. Gorski

Vincent Gorski is a Bakersfield California Family Law and Bankruptcy lawyer. He is certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization in both Family Law and Bankruptcy. He is the founder of The Gorski Firm and assists clients in complex and routine family law and bankruptcy issues. He was licensed to practice in Indiana in 2007 and California in 2009. He regularly writes on topics related to Bankruptcy and Family Law issues (divorce, custody, visitation, support, property division, etc.)

April 5, 2024

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