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Pet Custody Looks a Bit More Like Child Custody Thanks to New CA Law

Pets are like family. When you get divorced, your pets will certainly be affected. However, unlike children, pets don’t really have any rights. This is because pets are classified as property under California state law. As a result, your pet doesn’t have any more rights than your television or bedroom set. When you get divorced, ownership of the pet is a conversation reserved for property division discussions. No weight is really given to what is best for you or your pet.

Things are changing in California thanks to a new bill that was signed into law by Governor Brown last month. The law, AB 2274, allows pets to enjoy some newfound rights when their humans get divorced. While pets will still be treated as property, judges can have the authority to assign ownership based on what he or she believes is in the pet’s best interests. As a result, pet custody now looks a bit more like child custody in Los Angeles.   

Pets are Community Property Under the Law

California is a community property state. Unless there’s a prenup that dictates how property will be divided, each spouse is entitled to half of all marital property. This includes almost anything that was obtained by either spouse after the marriage. Examples include income, retirement benefits, personal property, and yes, even pets.

When you get divorced you will be required to disclose all of your property. Once all property has been disclosed, you and your spouse will sit down and try to figure out how to divide your property evenly. This can become tricky when pets are involved. Legally speaking, you and your spouse both share an ownership interest in the pet. However, how are you supposed to divide your pet in half? Some options include bartering or sharing ownership.

Bartering would involve one spouse taking ownership of the pet in exchange for giving up something else. If your spouse really wants a particular piece of property, you could agree to forfeit your rights in exchange for sole ownership of the pet.

Spouses can also agree to share ownership of a pet after a divorce. In fact, some courts have even ordered spouses to alternate ownership of pets. You get the dog for a week and then your spouse gets the dog for a week. This clearly isn’t’ the best arrangement for the pet, who may become confused and depressed as they bounce back and forth between homes.

What If I Owned the Pet Prior to the Marriage?

Property that was owned by either spouse prior to the marriage is not considered community property. Instead, it’s classified as separate property. When you get a divorce you are entitled to sole ownership of all separate property. If you adopted your pet before you got married and never formally extended ownership rights to your spouse, you are entitled to keep your pet after the divorce.

Understanding the Impact of AB 2274

California’s new law will become effective on January 1, 2019. Under AB 2274, pets are still seen as community property in the eyes of the law. Spouses still have an obligation to try to figure out how community property – including their pets – will be divided in the divorce. However, when it’s clear that you and your spouse can’t agree, the courts can step in and make decisions on your behalf. This is where things change.

Judges now have the authority to consider the best interests of your pet when determining ownership rights. Specifically, AB 2274 authorizes judges “to assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.” In other words, the judge can consider what is best for the pet and assign ownership using that assessment. No other community property can be allocated using such a subjective analysis.

When determining the best situation for a pet, judges may consider which spouse:

  • Fed the pet
  • Walked the pet
  • Took the pet the vet
  • Cared for the pet
  • Spent the most time with the pet, and
  • Protected the 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 new 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.

 

Getting a divorce can be incredibly complicated. Your entire family will be affected. It’s important to work with an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney. Contact Berenji & Associates for help today.