Custody battles over pets in California divorces are on the rise. In California, pets acquired during marriage are considered community property. Therefore, the courts must divvy up the pet(s) similar to dividing furniture, right? Well, close. Although pets are considered personal property, Courts understand that for most people, the emotional attachment to their pets is more akin to that of children.
If there is a child involved, the pet will usually be awarded to the parent with primary custody of the child. Courts often feel that children make an easier transition with the divorce when the family pet is around to offer the safety and comfort of the familiar. But what about when there are no minor children?
A couple can always come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation of Fluffy. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, courts will generally not order shared custody. One person will get the pet, the other will not. In deciding who “wins,” the courts will look at whether the pet belonged to one spouse before the marriage. If the couple acquired the pet during the marriage, the court will try to determine which spouse took primary responsibility for the pet and consider things such as: feeding, walking, playing, trips to the veterinarian, etc. Records and witnesses will be helpful in establishing these facts.
Although pet custody issues are becoming more common in divorce cases, most states, including California, do not carry pet custody laws on the books and simply view pets as personal property. However, in California, a victim of domestic violence may request sole possession and a “Stay Away Order” regarding pets in addition to children. Perhaps the addition of this protection of pets evidences a shift in how we view our pets and what legal rights they may be entitled to.
The bottom line is that courts will typically not award a pet to someone who is likely to mistreat the animal. So, an analysis of any history of violence will be an important fact to set forth in battling for custody of Fluffy.
Getting Legal Help
Experienced Sacramento Family Law Attorney Hal Bartholomew can help you navigate your divorce and custody issues with respect and compassion. Contact Bartholomew & Wasznicky LLP today for knowledgeable and respectful representation. Call us at (916) 455-5200 or email us at info@DivorceWithRespect.com