New California Law Addresses Pets When a Couple Gets a Divorce

For California couples who are at the end of a marriage and are planning to divorce, there are many issues that will be of concern. This can be part of an extended dispute and delay the process while costing money and leading to emotions being frazzled. While it might be considered secondary to some, a new law that will go into effect on Jan. 1 centers around how pets are handled when property division is addressed. Understanding how this law can impact couples as they divorce is an important factor in a case.

With the law, the judge in the divorce case will assess how the best interests of the pet are best served. No longer will the pet be treated as a piece of property. With this law, the judge will have the right to account for who will best care for the animal while also creating a shared custody situation. Whereas in the past, pets were treated as if they akin to a motor vehicle that needed to be considered in a property division, that is no longer the case. If, for example, one spouse took care of the dog’s needs by taking it for walks, feeding it and playing with it, that will be a major factor in who gets to retain the pet.

Recent surveys indicate that disputes over which spouse will keep a pet overwhelmingly focus on dogs. One, from 2014, said that 88 percent were over a dog. 5 percent were over a cat. Horses came in at 1 percent. Other pets included unique animals like a turtle and a python. People have long disagreed regarding which spouse gets to keep a pet. One case, from nearly two decades ago, ended up costing $150,000 as a couple battled over their dog. Although some states have been more specific as to the judge’s ability to determine which spouse should get the pet, California only says that the judge can consider the pets. There is no legal requirement for them to do so.

Disputes over pets might sound unusual, but it is not uncommon for divorcing couples to embark on an extended dispute over who keeps the pet. Just like any consideration at the end of a marriage, it can easily become a long-term problem as the parties cannot agree and acrimony prevents them from negotiating a reasonable settlement. Having legal assistance with this or any other issue in a California divorce is essential. When deciding to move forward at the end of a marriage, calling for legal help is a must.

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