Pets in a Divorce: Property or Part of the Family?

Pets in a Divorce: Property or Part of the Family?

About 68% of U.S. households contain at least one furry, scaled, winged, or gilled member of the family. That’s almost 85 million homes with something in common – they “own” at least one pet. In California, pets with squabbling ‘parents’ were considered to be just another asset to split up along with the furniture and the 401(k)s. Since many people consider their pets to be part of the family, this was problematic. A recent California law appears to be changing the legal status of pets. In 2019, will pets be property or part of the family?

Pets and Divorce Pre-2019

Since California is a community property state, everything a couple has accumulated generally is split 50-50. However, there are some exceptions. Pets were an unusual “asset” that was difficult to divide between the divorcing parties. In addition, animals often received spotty care while the divorce was pending.

A new California law that goes into effect in 2019 addresses the problem of pets in a divorce.

Pets as Part of the Family?

As of January 1, 2019, Section 2605 will become part of the California Family Code. It reads, in part:

“…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.”

The law also states the court may enter a temporary order requiring one party to care for the animal until the divorce is final.

So, what does this mean to a couple who both deeply care for their pet iguana?

Judges now may treat pets differently than other community property. Instead of just assigning a value and dividing it like many other community assets, the court may take other factors into consideration before assigning joint or sole custody. For example, judges may consider which party has the best relationship with the pet and who provides the majority of the pet’s care.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Rights – and Theirs.

Although this law may lead to a better life for pets, it also add another layer of stress to the divorcing couple. Fighting over Fido may prolong the process. However, we’re here to help. Please call us at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys.

Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We assist clients in California’s Northern to Central Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Gold River, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.