Keeping Your Pet in a Divorce

Divorce is more than the ending of a marriage. For many, it also represents the breaking up of a family. These days, people often think of their pets as part of that family. We have child custody and visitation laws, recognizing the value of keeping parents involved with their kids’ lives. In a divorce, however, there can be a very real fear of losing your relationship with your pet for good.

Legally, pets are considered property, and they are valued and traded as such. Courts understand the genuine emotional connection you have with your pets, but they also understand that you can be attached to your home, car, or art collection. Ultimately, they’re going to divide property using their system, and they’re not going to be too concerned with how bad it hurts you.

In California, that system is called “community property division.” Put simply, the state tries to give each spouse 50% of the overall value of the marital property. Marital property is anything that was acquired during the marriage. If you brought your furry friend into the marriage, you will probably be allowed to keep it. If, however, you adopted the animal together, while married, that pet becomes a piece of property that must be granted to someone after the divorce.

To be awarded any property after a divorce, you must show “entitlement” to that property. This includes your adorable pets.

How Do I Prove Entitlement to Property?

Courts are less concerned about who paid for something than they are who contributed to it. For instance, a married couple may include one person who works and another who tends to the home. The unemployed spouse makes a huge contribution to the house, even if they don’t bring in money. They keep the place clean, manage repairs and remodels, paint, decorate, etc. This unemployed spouse may still be entitled to keep the house after a divorce, financial contribution notwithstanding.

The same is true for the spouse who uses the property more often. Imagine one spouse who buys the other a car. Even though only one spouse makes the payments, the other uses it daily for work, the kids, errands, and so forth. Essentially, the car is “theirs.”

To keep your pet, you must prove that you are entitled to it. Don’t worry about who picked it up from the pound or who spent more money on it. Focus on either your contribution or your bond. If you, for instance, were the one who always walked, fed, and bathed the pet, you may be entitled to keep it. If you were primarily in charge of its veterinary care, you may be entitled. Beyond simple maintenance of the animal, there is also the issue of your closeness to it. Most families know who the dog or cat “really” belongs to, based on the relationship between the human and the animal. Your bond with Fluffy can create another strong argument for keeping him/her after the divorce.

Alternatives to Arguing for Entitlement

In 2018, California’s then-Governor Jerry Brown passed a law that allows divorce courts to view pet ownership in a way that resembles child custody. A court can allow pets to be swapped from home to home for predetermined periods. If both you and your spouse cannot bear to part with Fluffy, you can plead to the court to allow this kind of time sharing with the animal.

Keep in mind, however, that this “pet custody” is optional. Judges can ignore it altogether and simply give the pet to one spouse alone. If your spouse is determined to keep your pet all to themselves, you must argue your entitlement the way we outlined above.

If you’re concerned about losing your pet in a divorce, contact our firm today for help. We can help you build an argument for entitlement to any property, pets included. For a free consultation, call us today at (310) 817-6904 or fill out our online contact form.