Custody of Pets in California Family Law

Many married couples get a pet before they have children.  For pet lovers, pets are more than just “property.” Many couples view their pets as family.

Prior to 2019, pets were allocated as property in a divorce in California.

Beginning January 1, 2019, that all changed with California Family Code § 2605.

Now, pending the completion of a divorce or legal separation, the court can make an order requiring a party to care for a pet.  The order can require a party to provide food and water for the pet. The court can also order a party to provide veterinary care and proper shelter. Finally, the court can make orders to prevent harm or cruelty to the pet. This is separate from orders regarding pets in a Domestic Violence Restraining Order.

The statute also authorizes a court to make a final order regarding ownership of the pet. The court can assign ownership to either party or to the parties jointly.  In making a final determination of the pet’s ownership, the statute requires the court to take the care of the pet into consideration.  According to the statute, the temporary care order should not to have any impact on the court’s final order regarding ownership of the pet.

While not detailed in the statute, a party may consider presenting the following to the court:

  1. The bond between the pet and the minor children.
  2. The bond between the pet and either or both of the parties.
  3. The pet’s need for stability and continuity.
  4. The suitability of each party’s residence – e.g. some rentals do not even allow for pets.

While courts had previously made orders assigning ownership of pets as “property,” this new law changes the analysis.

Contact the certified family law specialists at Farkhad & Wang to discuss pet custody in your case.

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