How to Get Custody of a Pet in a California Divorce

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Are you facing a divorce in California and anxious about who will get custody of your cherished pet? If this is you, you’re in good company – 40.1% of California households have the joy of owning at least one pet. Since our pets are often considered vital members of the family, determining pet custody during a divorce can be an emotionally charged and complicated process.

In this blog, a pet custody lawyer at the Seabrook Law Office will guide you through the process of how to get custody of a pet in a California divorce and offer tips on how to strengthen your case.

We understand the deep bond you share with your pet and are committed to helping you navigate this challenging time. If you have questions or need assistance, contact us at (408) 560-4487 to schedule a consultation with one of our compassionate and experienced divorce lawyers.

What is a Pet?

In California, the term “pet” is not limited to just dogs and cats. It can include a wide variety of animals, such as birds, reptiles, rodents, and other domesticated animals that are kept as companions.

The state’s pet custody laws and considerations can apply to these animals, depending on the specific circumstances and the emotional bonds between the owners and their pets.

For example, imagine a couple who are going through a divorce, and they have a pet parrot named Mango. Mango is a beloved part of their family, and both spouses have a strong emotional bond with the bird.

In this hypothetical scenario, California’s pet custody law would apply to Mango just as it would to a dog or a cat, with the court considering factors such as care, attachment, financial stability, and living environment to determine the best outcome for the pet.

History of California’s Pet Custody Law

Before discussing the steps involved in the pet custody process, let’s look at how California law treats pets in divorce cases.

Pre-2019 Legislation

Prior to 2019, pets were largely treated as personal property in the eyes of the law. This meant that their custody was typically determined based on their monetary value rather than considering their welfare and the best interests of the pet and their family.

The New Pet Custody Law in 2019

Recognizing the need for a more compassionate approach, California passed Assembly Bill 2274 in 2019, granting judges the authority to consider the pet’s well-being in custody disputes.

This groundbreaking legislation set a new precedent in family law and has since influenced other states to adopt similar measures.

Defining Pet Custody

Pet custody refers to the legal determination of which party in a divorce or separation will be responsible for the care, control, and decision-making authority over a shared pet.

Unlike child custody, pet custody laws are still evolving, and the legal landscape varies from state to state. In California, the focus is on the pet’s best interests rather than simply treating them as property.

Your Pet as Community Property

Since California is a community property state, your pets are considered “community property,” meaning they belong to both spouses if acquired during the marriage. This can make determining who gets custody of the pet after a divorce challenging.

Your Pet as Personal Property

However, if a pet was acquired before the marriage or was gifted to one spouse, it may be considered “personal property” and be awarded to that spouse in the divorce.

Steps to Get Pet Custody in a California Divorce

Now that we’ve covered the legal framework let’s review the steps you can take to get custody of your pet in a California divorce.

Determine Pet Ownership

First, establish whether your pet is community or personal property. If it’s the latter, you may have a stronger claim to custody.

Negotiate with Your Spouse

If possible, try to reach an agreement with your spouse about pet custody. This can save you time, money, and emotional turmoil.

Pet Custody Agreement

If you and your spouse agree on custody terms, draft a written agreement outlining the details. This should include who will have primary custody, any visitation rights, and how expenses will be shared. Consult with a pet custody lawyer for help drafting an agreement.

Pet Visitation Schedule

If both parties want to remain involved in the pet’s life, create a visitation schedule that works for everyone. This could include alternating weekends, holidays, or other arrangements.

Factors Considered by California Courts

If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse, a judge will decide on pet custody based on the following factors:

Care and Attachment

The court will consider which spouse has primarily cared for the pet, including feeding, grooming, and attending to medical needs. Emotional attachment to the pet is also a significant factor.

Financial Responsibility

The judge will evaluate each spouse’s ability to financially support the pet, including providing food, shelter, and medical care.

Living Situation

The court will consider each spouse’s living situation, ensuring the pet has a safe and comfortable home. This includes factors like space, neighborhood safety, and proximity to parks or pet-friendly areas.

Pet’s Preferences

If possible, the judge may consider the pet’s preferences, especially if there’s a clear bond with one spouse over the other.

Tips for Strengthening Your Pet Custody Case

Here are some tips to help you improve your chances of winning pet custody in a California divorce:

Document Your Involvement

Keep records of your involvement in your pet’s life. This can include receipts for veterinary care, photographs of you and your pet together, and testimonials from friends or neighbors.

Demonstrate Financial Stability

Show you can provide for your pet’s needs by presenting evidence of your financial stability, such as pay stubs or bank statements.

Be Flexible and Cooperative

Being willing to compromise and work with your spouse can demonstrate to the court that you’re focused on the pet’s best interests, which may work in your favor.

Types of Pet Custody Arrangements

Similar to child custody, there are several types of pet custody arrangements that can be determined by the court or negotiated between the parties involved:

Sole Custody

One party is granted full responsibility and decision-making authority over the pet. This arrangement is often chosen when it is clear that one party is better suited to care for the pet’s needs.

Joint Custody

Both parties share responsibility and decision-making authority for the pet. This arrangement usually involves a schedule for each party to have the pet in their care.

Visitation Rights

In some cases, one party may be granted visitation rights, allowing them to spend time with the pet on a regular basis, even if they do not have primary custody.

To better illustrate these arrangements, consider the following example:

Samantha and Alex, a divorcing couple, had adopted a dog named Bella during their marriage. Samantha primarily cared for Bella, while Alex had developed a strong bond with the dog. 

They agreed on a joint custody arrangement, where Bella would live with Samantha during the week and with Alex on weekends. This arrangement allowed both parties to continue their relationship with Bella and ensure her well-being.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods

In many cases, it’s in the best interests of all parties involved to resolve pet custody disputes outside of court. Mediation and collaborative law are two alternative dispute resolution methods that can help parties reach a fair agreement, potentially saving time, money, and emotional distress.

Here’s an example of how mediation can be beneficial in resolving pet custody disputes:

Jennifer and Mark could not agree on pet custody for their two cats and decided to try mediation. During the mediation process, they discussed their individual bonds with the cats, their living situations, and their ability to provide for the cats’ needs. 

With the help of a mediator, they reached an agreement where Jennifer would have primary custody of both cats, and Mark would have visitation rights every other weekend.

Impact of California’s Pet Custody Law

California’s pet custody law has set a precedent for other states to follow, acknowledging the importance of considering a pet’s well-being in custody decisions. This progressive approach has helped ensure that pets’ best interests are taken into account and has likely contributed to more positive outcomes for pets and their families.

Fortunately, California’s pet custody law recognizes the unique bond between humans and their pets, treating them as more than mere property. By considering factors such as care, attachment, financial stability, and living environment, the law aims to protect pets’ best interests during difficult times.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need a lawyer to handle pet custody in a California divorce?

A: While it’s not required, hiring a lawyer experienced in pet custody cases can be beneficial, especially if you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse.

Q: What if my spouse and I have joint ownership of our pet?

A: If the pet is considered community property, the court will decide custody based on the “best interest of the pet” standard.

Q: Can I request pet support payments from my spouse?

A: Yes, in some cases, the court may order one spouse to provide financial support for the pet’s care and expenses.

Q: What if my spouse isn’t following the agreed-upon pet custody arrangement?

A: If your spouse isn’t complying with the custody agreement, you can seek legal recourse, such as filing a motion for contempt or requesting a modification of the order.

Q: Can pet custody arrangements be modified after the divorce is finalized?

A: Yes, if there’s a significant change in circumstances, such as one spouse moving or being unable to care for the pet, the court may modify the custody arrangement.

Navigating Pet Custody with the Help of a California Pet Custody Lawyer

Navigating pet custody in a California divorce can be challenging, but understanding the legal framework, working with your spouse, and strengthening your case can help you achieve the best outcome for you and your pet.

Hiring a lawyer for pet custody cases is not required, but it can be beneficial, especially if you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse. If you’re searching online for a “pet lawyer near me,” contact us instead. At the Seabrook Law Office, we know how much you love your pet and are here to help you get custody of this beloved member of your family.

If you have questions or need help with a pet custody arrangement, contact us at (408) 560-4487 or fill out our confidential online form to schedule your consultation with one of our compassionate and experienced divorce lawyers. For your convenience, we have locations in San Jose and Fremont.

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Copyright © 2023. Seabrook Law Offices. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

Seabrook Law Offices
6840 Via Del Oro, Ste. 265
San Jose, CA 95119
(408) 560-4487

Seabrook Law Offices
2201 Walnut Ave Suite 190
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 800-8288

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