For many families, pets are members of the family. Pets appear in holiday cards, social media postings along with other family members, and are cared for as faithful companions. On the other hand, California Family Law historically viewed pets as personal property, no different than an inanimate objection, and assigned ownership like another property item in a divorce. If a pet was acquired during the marriage, the pet was characterized as community property, never mind that our pets are sentient beings. Your dog knows when you are happy or sad, and even cats have this ability whether they readily show it or not. Recently, California changed the way pets are viewed in divorce. Family Code Section 2605 now allows Family Law Judges to “assign sole or joint ownership” of a “community property” pet, by taking into consideration the care for the pet. Pets can also be placed in the temporary care of one of the parties in a divorce before the final home of the pet is determined.
In determining pet custody, the Court may consider whether a spouse knows the brand of pet food the animal eats, the name of the pet’s veterinarian, the pet’s medical needs, and additional factors relating to the pet’s care. The family pet usually has a “favorite,” even if that is simply the person who feeds it. Parents might also want to consider if their children have formed a strong bond with the pet when determining custody arrangements. Some might argue that this new law raises the status of a pet to something just below a human child. However, advocates say it raises the status of pets to where they belong, as family members. Pets also receive protected status in domestic violence cases. A domestic violence victim can add custody of a pet to their domestic violence filing.