Pet Custody in California Divorces

Top family law attorneys explain Pet Custody in California Divorces.

Divorce can be difficult enough, and sometimes, divorcing spouses become spiteful, making decisions just to hurt or antagonize the other person. And sometimes, when it comes to property division, two people can just not agree on who gets what. Especially when a beloved pet is involved. This is where the experience of Los Angeles family lawyer comes in very handy. Pet custody has proven to be a challenging hurdle for divorcing or legally separating couples in California, especially as more and more couples decide to take on the rewarding responsibility of raising and caring for a dog or cat (or pig or hamster!) during their marriage. So what do you do when your soon to be ex demands ownership of your pet?

Pet Custody in California

In California, animals have typically been considered personal property. This meant that courts only had authority to award a pet to one owner or the other. Granting shared custody or visitation of the couple’s pets would be no different, in the eyes of the law, as having them trade their television back and forth from one week to the next. Times, however, are changing. There is a growing tendency among judges to decide on the “ownership” of a companion animal based on the interests of the pet and pets are now being looked at as an equivalent to a child. In fact, California now has a law (California Family Code Section 6320) that protects domestic animals if there is a reason to believe one of the parties may cause harm to the pet.

Claiming Ownership in Pet Custody Disputes

So how do you show that you should get sole custody of your pet? When it comes to pets, it is a matter of ownership rather than custody. Again, California Family Code Section 6320 protects domestic animals if there is a reason to believe your ex may harm your pet. Additionally, in marriages involving domestic abuse, pets can be included in domestic violence restraining orders.

Pet Pre-Nups

When it comes to “custody” of the pet, your best option is to draft a premarital agreement, or pre-nup, that clearly describes whom gets ownership of the pet and addresses costs for vet bills, boarding, and how-to-end-a-life decisions. As with many financial issues, having these agreements laid out on paper will help ease the stress later down the line. Pets can have a huge impact in the owner’s life. We understand that you may want your beloved companion by your side during and after your divorce. For additional guidance on pet custody issues, contact the expert family lawyers at Walzer Melcher LLP today.