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Joseph R. Zoucha, Attorney & Counselor at Law

What the law says about divorce and pet custody

In most states, pets are nothing more than personal property when it comes to divorce. Who gets to keep the animal is something spouses need to work out on their own. There is no consideration given to what is best for the pet. This is where California is different. Here, there is a pet custody law, which just took effect the beginning of this year, and it is something that many people have mixed feelings about.

In the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people asking family courts to award pet custody as part of their divorce settlements. Clearly, it is an issue that is important to a lot of people. In the past, if such an issue went to court, a judge would either tell both parties to work it out on their own or simply award the animal to one of them. Lawmakers felt that the pets deserved better treatment.

Considerations before awarding pet custody

Now, if desired, a couple should be able to go before a judge to fight about pet custody and expect the judge to listen and award custody based on the following considerations:

  • Who was the primary caretaker of the pet?
  • Who provided for the pet financially?
  • Whose idea was it to purchase the pet?
  • Who does the animal spend the most time with?
  • Are there any concerns about pet abuse?

Pets are capable of feeling emotion. Lawmakers passed the pet custody law because they want pets to be in the best living situation after a marriage ends.

Concerns about what this law means for divorce cases

Divorce can be a complex beast that takes time to get through. Lawyers and judges are all concerned that this new law will prolong divorce proceedings and give couples more to fight about. As such, those with knowledge on the matter encourage a settlement on pet custody issues outside of court. Litigation on this matter is still a last resort, only used if all attempts to reach an agreeable custody arrangement have failed.

As this law is new, it may take some judges time to come around to the fact that pet custody is something that may require litigation. You never know if you are going to get a judge who will be sympathetic to your situation or one who will tell you to keep trying to figure it out on your own time. Regardless of a judge's stance, legal counsel will help you fight for the pet custody arrangement you believe is best for this member of your family.

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