Who Gets to Keep Pets in a California Divorce or Separation?

Who Gets to Keep Pets in a California Divorce or Separation
In some divorces or legal separations, one of the foremost concerns is what will happen to family pets. Many of us treat pets like family.  We may even ask for “custody” of them.  But the California courts treat pets as personal property, not like children.  Therefore, no one can obtain “custody” of a family pet.

Perhaps the clearest way to deal with pet “custody” issues is to avoid them in the first place.  Before you are married, include post-marital pet issues in a valid prenuptial agreement.  In such an agreement, you can deal with how you want your personal property to be split; this can include the treatment of pets.

If you didn’t have the foresight to include pets in a prenuptial agreement, all is not lost.  In most circumstances, it is best to cooperate with your soon-to-be-ex.  If your pet is important to you, you may wish to compromise on other issues in order to obtain possession of your animal.  The two of you may even agree to an informal arrangement for where the pet will live, or even for visitation.

Under normal circumstances, it is best to agree on the arrangement for the family pet.  However, if the parties cannot agree, the judge will decide who receives the pet.  Here are some likely considerations:

  • The connections of the pet with the parties and the children;
  • The pet’s primary caretaker; and
  • Acts or threats of violence against the pet, the other party, or a minor child.

This last factor can be particularly important because California has a statute designed to protect pets. California Family Code § 6320, which became effective in 2014, allows courts to take actions to protect personal property from destruction.  If a party can show “good cause,” a court can do two things: (1) grant the exclusive “care, possession, or control” of a pet to the appropriate party; and (2) order a party “to stay away from the animal and forbid” the taking or disposal of the animal.

At the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger, we understand how important family pets are not only to a couple but to their children.  Pets can provide stability and love in a time of instability. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can advocate for you: (415) 293-8314.

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