Pets are an essential part of any family. After all, dogs are considered man’s best friend. For a lot of newlyweds, the idea of getting a dog or a cat before having children is ideal for several different reasons. Firstly, it can be used as a test to gauge if the couple can seriously care for another living being together. Secondly, owning most pets requires people to give up a significant amount of free time for training and extra cash for toys, food, toiletries for the pets, etc. Pets are considered the predecessor to children in the world of marriage.
So, what happens to the fur babies when a couple decides to call it quits and get divorced? Pet custody can become a huge point of contention during the mediation and settlement stages of any marriage. On January 1, 2019, California enacted Family Code Section 2605, a law that aims specifically at dealing with the ins and outs of “pet custody.”
Under Family Code Section 2605, judges are given the power to determine who gets ownership of the pets based on what is in the pet’s best interest. Prior to the enactment of this law, pets were treated as community property assets, needing to be divided between divorcing parties. This is the same kind of mentality that goes into splitting assets such as the tv, cars, joint bank accounts, etc. In most cases, whoever purchased, rescued, or primarily cared for the pet typically won ownership. However, picking the parent who won the pet was always discretionary as there was no clear-cut criteria for determining who was more fit to take care of the animal.
Although judicial discretion to determine who receives custody of a pet is the cornerstone of Family Code Section 2605, the judge now has the power to, “assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the car of the pet animal.” What this means, is that the judge now doesn’t just consider who purchased or rescued the pet, but where the pet would likely thrive based on evidence presented. Some factors the court now considers are who typically feeds the pet, exercises the pet, takes the pet to vet appointments, who’s household can better accommodate the pet with a larger space or better shelter, who is emotionally connected to the pet, and who is the registered owner. These questions aim at proving that Californians see their pets as much more than just property. It is recommended that both parties gather as much proof as they can to present their case based on the factors above.
However, this option above is for those who don’t think they can split custody of their pets. Another option would be to go through mediation and create a custody schedule for your beloved fur baby, wherein the pet animal spends time with both parties. At Argyris Mah, LLP, we understand the importance that our pets have in our lives. Whether you’re going through a divorce, need mediation, or consulting, our staff is ready to assist you in achieving your goals.