As a married couple, Noah and April shared everything – their finances, homes, and friends. They also shared their pet. Desi was a ball python they had raised for more than seven years. Although snakes are not generally considered cuddly pets, both Noah and April loved hanging out with him. But pet custody never entered their minds until they decided to end their marriage. Since they both wanted to keep Desi, deciding what was in the best interests of their python became a major obstacle.
Property and Custody Decisions in a California Divorce.
Of course, deciding how to divide “stuff” and deciding who will get custody of human beings are two very different issues.
Because California is a community property state, a married couple’s property and debt are split roughly 50-50. For example, say Noah and April had bought a racehorse. The horse’s value might be split between them if the horse was an investment and not a pet.
Custody decisions usually involve children. Parents and family courts are expected to do what is best for the children when deciding on custody. For example, if Desi were a child and not a python, the court would decide on physical and legal custody based on a number of factors. However, in this scenario, Desi is a reptile, not a kid.
With pet custody, the issue becomes: is the pet handled like property or something else?
Pets: Property or a Family Member?
Before the adoption of California Family Code Section 2605, pets were often considered property by courts. Unfortunately, the couple getting divorced were operating on emotions, not laws. Couples sometimes signed agreements on how to deal with their pets, but the agreements lacked ‘teeth.’ In other words, the courts could not consistently enforce them.
Some couples even litigated the issue of pet custody if they were unable to settle the issue.
What California Law Says About Pet Custody
California Family Code Section 2605 recognizes the “unique nature” of the pet-owner relationship. It’s not unusual for people, especially childless couples, to develop an almost parent-child bond with their pets. For divorcing couples, the law needed to adapt to the issue of pet custody.
Specifically, the law states:
“2605. (b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 25500, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.
(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.”
Couples can still reach an agreement on pet custody. In fact, pet owners might even develop visitation schedules that allow the non-custodial pet parent to see their beloved pet for holidays and regular weekly visits. However, the courts now have a law to stand on.
Eventually, it all comes down to what’s in the best interests of the pet – or, in this case, the python.
Pet Custody Can Quickly Slither into a Divorce Proceeding.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce, legal separation, and annulment. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.