In the past, any pets a divorcing couple shared had the status of property. They were on the same level as inanimate objects, such as televisions and couches. However, California recently passed a new law giving pets a new status that will take effect in 2019.
Pets will still have the designation of community property. The new law gives the judge the power to weigh certain factors when determining who should keep the pet. Before, a judge would simply look at all of the couple's assets and decide who receives what in an equitable manner. A spouse who did not even want the dog could end up with it. Now a judge will look at who most often feeds the pet and who takes care of it the most. The goal behind this new law is to ensure the dog, cat or other animal receives excellent care after the marriage ends.
This law will hopefully help couples avoid more arguments and help give the animals a better place to live. For example, it was not uncommon in the past for a family with two animals for one spouse to receive one while the other spouse gets the other. While this served as an equitable division of the property, it does not take into account the fact the animals may be friends and splitting them up permanently is detrimental.
Is joint custody possible?
The new law allows the spouses to petition the court for ownership of the animal, which could entail sharing custody. Additionally, provisions in the law exist that would allow the spouses to give the pet to a family member or friend temporarily while the divorce takes place. Divorcing puts animals in a state of flux because they may have to move around a lot. Similar laws exist in Illinois and Alaska. With this extra guidance, the pets will hopefully have better living situations in the long run.