Pet Custody in California

Posted on January 29th, 2019 by

In late 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2274 into law, now codified in California Family Code Section 2605. This law empowers California courts to take into consideration “the care of the pet animal” in cases of marital dissolution or legal separation. Under the law, courts will also be allowed to create “shared custody” agreements for companion animals, as well as to enter an order requiring a party to care for the animal prior to the final determination of ownership.

This is a very significant development in the law in this area. Before, the law in California required that the court equally divide all “community” property including pets, which were treated no differently than furniture. Now, pets are treated more like children.

Assembly member Bill Quirk, a sponsor of the bill, had this to say about it: “There was nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during
divorce proceedings.”

The new California Family Code Section 2605 provides as follows:

(a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage orfor legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of
the pet animal.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet. Unlike simply dividing furniture, a judge can now consider a wide variety of factors when determining custody of a pet. These include, but are not limited to, the “parent” who:
• fed the pet;
• walked the pet;
• took the pet the vet;
• cared for the pet;
• spent the most time with the pet;
• protected the pet;
• adopted the pet;
• purchased food/vet services for pet.

Judges may even consider allegations of pet or domestic abuse when determining which spouse is best suited to care for the pet after a divorce. Under the pet custody law, pets are much more likely to end up in a loving and caring home. It will be much harder for spouses to fight for custody of the pet out of spite. Courts will step in when necessary and make a determination based on care.
One way to avoid having the Court decide custody is to draft a “pet-nup” early on in your relationship; potentially well before marriage. If you love your pet, contact us today to determine your rights.