Pets Are Not Just Property in a California Divorce

If you own any pets, you probably see your furry (or scaly, shelled, gilled, feathered) friend as a legitimate member of your family. The unconditional love we receive from our domesticated animals is truly irreplicable. It might shock you, then, that the vast majority of states treat pets as just another piece of property in a divorce or separation.

California, a relatively forward-thinking state, is one exception. In 2019, the legislature passed a law authorizing judges to help create a visitation schedule, or joint ownership arrangement, for pets. Furthermore, California judges are heavily encouraged to consider the well-being of each pet when deciding on an ownership arrangement.

This law, codified as Section 2605 of the California Family Code, still classifies pets as property in the context of divorce proceedings. The expanded guidelines surrounding ownership arrangements, however, place pets in a different category of property altogether.

Community vs. Separate Property

It should be understood that California is a community property state, which means community property is generally divided equally between two divorcing spouses. Most property gained by either spouse during marriage is considered to be community property. Separate property and assets are any items that either spouse obtained prior to the marriage. Pets that were adopted by either spouse before they even met their partner are likely to stay with that spouse, as they are classified as separate property.

Factors Judges Consider When Deciding on Pet Ownership

The pet’s well-being is a significant factor when couples or judges must craft a sole or joint ownership arrangement. Pets deserve many things that humans also need: food, water, medical care, and adequate shelter. If one spouse is better-positioned to provide those things to the family pet, that spouse is more likely to get sole ownership. On the other hand, previous instances of animal abuse or neglect will almost certainly bar a spouse from getting ownership. 

Other conditions judges might consider include work schedules, housing capabilities, and emotional attachments to the pet. For instance, children often develop deep emotional connections to their furry companions. Divorces can also be hard on kids. If children are to spend the majority (or all) of their time at one parent’s house, judges may determine that both the children and pet would be best served by residing in that same household.

For the most part, this part of the California Family Code only applies to companion animals and true pets. Service animals, emotional support animals, psychiatric service animals, and therapy animals will almost always stay with the human to whom the animal is assigned.

You Don’t Have to Leave Matters Up to a Judge

Most divorce cases do not go all the way to trial. More often, spouses will come to an agreement with help from attorneys and other professionals. Understanding the law surrounding pet ownership after a divorce can, however, better inform couples about best practices for setting up an ownership arrangement. 

No matter how you want to go about divorcing your spouse, The Grey Legal Group can help ensure your interests are well-represented while we take care of your legal obligations. There is a better tomorrow on the horizon, and we can help you get there. Get in touch with us today to schedule your initial consultation with our caring staff. 

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The Grey Legal Group

At The Grey Legal Group, we believe in helping all families with their legal needs so they can be protected on your journey back to a calmer, happier place of stability. Whether it is divorce, child custody, guardianship, domestic violence, or adoption, we have seen it all before and we can help you through it. With the legal knowledge and experience we bring to the table, we will be certain to find the best and most efficient solution to your situation.

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