Who Keeps The Pet In A Divorce Under California Law?

Pets have always played important roles in our family lives, and that makes for a complex situation when a marriage ends. While it may be difficult in your divorce to determine who gets your furry loved ones, there are rules set in place that ensure the best care for your animal family member. 

Family, Not Property

Prior to 2019, California courts applied the state’s property division laws to pets when ruling divorce cases, which treated pets like any typical inanimate object. Now, with California law AB2274, that changes how pet animal ownership is handled. Judges listen to both sides, and decide custody based on the best interest of your pet, similarly how child custody is determined. Having clearer guidelines for how custody is determined ensures that the pet is going to a loving, stable, and safe environment, rather than ending up with a negligent owner.

Pet Custody Factors

If you wish to win sole custody of your pet, you and your lawyer will have the opportunity to state your case in full ownership. This law applies to pets that were acquired during the time of your marriage, and only applies to animals that are kept as household pets. If one person entered the relationship with the pet, it’s no longer treated as community property, and will go to whoever was the original owner. 

A judge considers several factors when determining who will be given custody:

  • Who takes primary care of the pet?
  • Who originally purchased or adopted the pet?
  • Who typically exercises the pet?
  • Who’s name is registered as the owner?
  • Which household can accommodate the pet with appropriate space?
  • Who has taken care of veterinarian visits and expenses?
  • Who is the pet more emotionally attached to?
  • What is best for the pet overall?

Solutions in Co-Ownership

The divorce itself is already a stressful situation, and sometimes co-ownership isn’t an option depending on where your relationship lies. Looking at your motivations of keeping your pet is important to consider. Having custody as means of retaliation, over actually caring for the pet and its’ affection, could make this decision much more difficult for both parties. Bargaining other assets in exchange for the pet can be a way to cut ties more smoothly, but overall the best interest for your pet would hopefully be the deciding factor. 

While it’s typically the last option, 27% of pets are rehomed or given away for family matters like divorce, so many responsible owners make attempts in caring for the pet together, but separately. Operating through co-ownership allows both sides of the family to happily conduct time with their pets, and as long as it’s healthy for those involved, pet sitting and visits could be a potential solution. 

In some cases, it’s best for the pet to stay in one place, having one partner being the primary caregiver, then able to establish visitation rights. Remember that some animals are creatures of habit, so picking a routine that works well and consistently is an important consideration when making a decision to share them. Deciding how pet expenses will be split between the two of you from the beginning will be helpful to adhere to in the future.

There isn’t always an easy solution that you and your ex can come to, and considering hiring a mediator can be helpful to alleviate emotionally charged arguments when coming to a final and fair arrangement. 

Potentially Losing Your Pet

Giving up a pet in divorce is a painful thing to go through. While going through this grieving process, you might want to rush to adopt another pet, but allow yourself time to feel, and maybe consider talking to a life or divorce coach. If you’re able to, there are plenty of rescues and shelter groups that love to give the opportunity to foster animals in need of adoption. Volunteer work for animal shelters, or other nonprofits, can also give you some time to be around animals without having to fully commit to owning another furry friend. Remember that time will help heal the pain in your loss, but surrounding yourself with friends, family, or loved ones can truly make that time a little easier. 

Seeking Legal Help

Experiencing any life-altering change can be a difficult and emotional time, and having a trusted attorney to offer insight with your custody battles or case issues can offer peace of mind. 

At Azemika Law, our practice is devoted to the field of family law. We efficiently handle cases involving divorce, dissolutions of partnerships, child custody, abandonment, and adoptions. 
Serving Kern County for the past 28 years, we provide all of our clients with knowledgeable and affordable representation. We understand that divorce is a crucial time for important decisions.

Contact us today to help protect you and your loved ones when you need it most.

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