Pet Custody

Seabrook Law Offices helps clients retain pet custody following a divorce in San Jose, CA.

Determining Pet Custody in a California Divorce

We form deep bonds with our pets, often considering them integral parts of our families. When unfortunate conflicts lead to a divorce, the question of who will retain pet custody can create more questions, apprehension, and heartache during this difficult time. While people don’t plan for a divorce, you can take important steps to prepare for it. You don’t want to compound the potential trauma of life changes associated with divorce by losing your relationships with your closest animal friends. Your spouse might make the case to take your animals away from you, but we can help prevent that from happening.

Pet custody laws in California have been changing in recent years. In 2019, the California legislature passed AB-2274, changing the spirit of pet custody decisions in our state’s divorce proceedings. This law allows judges to assign sole or joint ownership of any community property, pet, or animal. Though pets remain property, the issue is regularly discussed in terms of “custody” — treating the pet much like a child with interests. The pet’s interests become critical factors affecting a judge’s decision when determining a custody arrangement.

Prior to this law, pets were treated much like other types of property, assessed in terms of monetary value, and divided between spouses like any other asset.

The court will consider factors such as who acquired the pet in the first place and who has been providing care for the pet. The court may also consider which spouse best suits the pet’s needs and best interests.

The Judge Has the Final Say, But Is Your Pet Community Property or Separate Property?

In California, all assets acquired during a marriage are considered community property and must be divided between spouses upon divorce. AB-2274 shifts focus from the monetary value of the pet to the interests and wellbeing of the household animal, treating the issue with custodial analysis factors that may include the following concerning you and your spouse:

  • Financial responsibility of each party
  • Living situation of each party
  • Projected costs associated with maintaining the pet
  • Investments for the animal’s welfare
  • Past responsibilities for taking care of the pet — including routine tasks and maintaining appropriate veterinary care
  • The pet’s preferences for or bonds with each spouse

California’s AB-2274 applies to custody decisions for most types of pets that play the role of companion animals in California:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Small Furry Animals
  • Other Household Pets

However, not all animals that are property of an individual or a couple are treated equally under the law. Farm animals, rodeo animals, or animals working in a service or emotional support capacity are treated more in relation to their functional or monetary value as a resource for labor or support purposes.

If one spouse proves that they owned the pet before marriage, that animal may be excluded from division as separate property. Ownership of a pet before marriage does not necessarily prevent it from becoming community property. If you owned your pet before you were married, you should discuss these details with an experienced pet custody attorney to prepare your pet custody strategy.

Determining pet custody in California during a divorce can be complicated and requires an experienced attorney who understands how this new law works.

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You Need a Plan to Secure Retention of Your Pet in a California Divorce

To build a solid case for retaining your pets during a legal dispute, it is important to document all evidence related to your care and ownership of them. This includes purchase agreements or adoption papers, if applicable, veterinary records showing proof of regular checkups and vaccinations, photos of you with your pets, and any other documentation that can demonstrate your commitment to their care and well-being.

Additionally, if there are any witnesses who can attest to your relationship with your pets or provide evidence that they have been living with you for an extended period of time before filing for divorce, it may be beneficial to include their testimony as part of your case.

Some forms and documents are required by courts when filing for pet custody in California:

  • Declaration form – This form must be completed by both parties involved in the dispute and submitted along with any other documents being presented as evidence.
  • Order form – This form outlines the final decision made by the court regarding sole or joint ownership of any community property, pet, or animal.
  • Notice form – This form must be served upon all parties involved in order for them to receive notice about upcoming hearings related to their case.
  • Final Judgment form – This form outlines all terms agreed upon by both parties regarding ownership rights after the court has ruled.

Following these steps can help ensure you have a comprehensive plan when seeking pet custody post-divorce in California. Coordinate with your attorney to incorporate these steps into your pet custody strategy. With proper preparation and understanding of how these laws work within our state’s legal system, you can increase your chances of successfully retaining ownership rights over your beloved furry friends during this difficult time!

Pet Custody Arrangements You May Pursue in California

There are two primary arrangements in pet custody: sole custody and joint custody. Sole custody means that one person — you or your ex-spouse — has full responsibility for caring for the pet. Joint custody means you and your ex-spouse will share responsibility for its care. Perhaps only one spouse seeks custody, or both will be interested in custody of an animal. You can make your case for sole or joint custody, and how both parties interact in the case of a conflict can affect the terms of the custody arrangement.

As mentioned, the judge can decide the final custody based on the pet’s interests and well-being. The judge may award sole custody if one party is better suited to provide for the pet’s needs or if one party has a history of abuse or neglect. If both you and your ex-spouse can provide for the pet’s needs and have a good relationship, the judge may choose to award you joint custody.

Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements can also influence pet custody arrangements in California. These prenup or postnup agreements can specify who will have primary ownership and responsibility for any pets owned by either party before or after marriage. The court will consider any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements as well as what arrangement is in the animal’s best interest when deciding in the case of a divorce.

Finally, following a divorce, a pet custody arrangement in California may change depending on how much time each party spends with the pet and how well they can provide for its needs. Under AB-2274, the court is also authorized to order a party to care for the pet before the final determination of ownership.

Mediation May Be a Good Option to Address Your California Pet Custody Concerns

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process where a neutral third party helps two or more parties reach an agreement without going to court. This approach can be beneficial when addressing a pet custody issue for many reasons. Mediation allows both parties to control the agreed arrangement in their case instead of having a judge decide for them. It also offers confidentiality, convenience, and reduced costs compared to litigation.

Collaborative law is another alternative approach for resolving pet custody disputes in California, in which each party hires their own lawyer who works with the other lawyer and their clients to develop a mutually beneficial agreement. The lawyers are not allowed to represent either party in court if they cannot reach an agreement outside of court.

Mediation may be a good approach for determining pet custody in California because it offers several advantages over alternatives such as collaborative law. Work closely with a California attorney for pet custody to weigh your options in light of the unique details of your pet custody concerns.

Contact Seabrook Law Offices Today to Schedule a Consultation and Discuss Custody of a Pet in California

Divorce is a difficult time for anyone. When we see our pets as members of our families, the custody questions can cause further tension for everyone involved — including the pet. Especially in light of the changes in California pet custody law since 2019, you need to take early steps in cooperation with a knowledgeable California divorce and pet custody lawyer to establish that you have a close bond with your animals and can consistently provide for their many needs.

You can provide evidence to influence a California judge’s pet custody decisions in your favor. Alternatively, neglecting these opportunities to collect evidence will work against you. If you have questions about custody of a pet when you are facing a divorce in California, contact Seabrook Law Offices to schedule a consultation so we can help you plan an effective strategy to secure custody of your animals.

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