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Who gets to keep our dog or cat after divorce?

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2023 | Divorce

Getting divorced is rarely an easy option, but when it is needed, it is worth it. But, for pet parents, especially those without children, the first question is usually, who gets the family pet? After all, they are part of your family, but does California law treat them like family.

California’s pet custody law

Prior to 2019, California, like many other states, treated pets as property, where you and your spouse were only entitled to split the value of the family pets. In other words, pets were treated as property, just like your television, car, couch, etc.

Beginning in 2019, though, Section 2605 was added to California’s Family Code. This changed how family law courts treat family pets. In a divorce, Section 2605 gives family law judges the power to consider the best interest of the pet.

Best interest of the pet?

The new law requires the judge in a divorce case to assign sole or joint ownership (custody) of the family pet, if one of the divorcing spouses requests such a designation. In making such a designation, the judge will use the best interest of the pet. In other words, the judge must consider the well-being of the pet, including awarding temporary custody.

Though, to be clear, the law does not recognize pet custody. Instead, it is recognized as pet animal ownership.

What determines the well-being of a pet?

The best interests of the pet are determined utilizing many factors. It includes which pet parent feeds, walks and plays with the pet, including the person who normally takes the pet to their vet appointments. The court will also look to who is the registered owner and which spouse has the ability and space to better care for the family pet. Even your emotional well-being can be considered, but not necessarily whether the animal is an emotional support animal.

Are all family pets covered by Section 2605?

California Family Code, Section 2605, applies to all pets, which is “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.” This means that it applies to any pet you acquire during your marriage, not just dogs and cats.