How Pet Custody Works in California

When most of us think about our families, we can’t help but include the animal friends who make our lives feel whole. It’s no wonder, then, why pets sometimes become focal points as large as kids during divorce.

Back in January 2019, California for the first time gave judges the power to assign custody over a pet during a divorce. Just as they do with children, judges are to put an animal’s best interest and wellbeing at the forefront of their decisions.

Unlike children, however, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, until the new law was passed, household pets were treated like any other piece of property in a divorce. This meant that pets were just another factor to consider during property division – no different than bank accounts or furniture.

While pets are still technically considered property, they are regarded by the law as something more than property. When judges considered household pets as mere property, some recognized that the pet’s bond with their owners was important enough to consider. This led those few judges to order visitation schedules, although none of this was really guided by any existing laws in California at the time.

Now that legislation for pet custody does exist, California joins Alaska and Illinois in viewing pets as something more than property.

The Pet’s Needs Come First

Although children and pets certainly aren’t equal in the eyes of the law, judges are nonetheless guided by the same principle in determining custody for either: What is in the child’s/pet’s best interests?

This is noteworthy because, in both cases, neither of the divorcing spouses’ needs are really taken into account. When determining with which parent to place a child, a judge can’t consider how it’ll make either parent feel, but he can consider how it will make the child feel.

By a similar – but less rigid – token, the bond a pet has with either of its owners can be taken into account, but there are more important factors a judge will consider first.

These factors can include evaluating which owner can provide the following:

  • A safe environment
  • Food and clean water
  • Veterinary care
  • Love and comfort

Are You Fighting for Pet Custody?

At Claery & Hammond, LLP, we understand that people often consider their pets to be members of their families. Over the years, we’ve seen so many people fight so hard to retain ownership of a beloved pet, only to lose it once the final divorce decree was issued.

If you know that your pet benefits best from spending time with you, we may be able to help you fight for a pet custody agreement. If you are interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP online today for more information.