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Protecting your bond with your "fur baby" in a California divorce

Whether your companion animal is a dog, cat, rabbit, bird or reptile, you may have developed a very strong connection with that animal. Many modern couples choose to adopt a companion animal with their spouse or partner, not thinking about the potential heartbreak that could arise in the future because of their bond.

Some couples adopt animals into their household in lieu of having children. Others may have human offspring to care for in addition to the pets that they love. Determining who keeps the animals can be a difficult, if not heartbreaking, decision that impacts you, the animal and the children in your family.

Regardless of whether you have children, it is normal and natural to want to protect your treasured relationship with your pet in the event of a divorce. While most states across the country treat companion animals like property with a financial value only, California has a new law that better protects people who love their companion animals.

As of 2019, you can ask for shared pet custody

Last year, state lawmakers decided to address the pressing issue of beloved pets being treated as nothing more than a financial asset in divorces. The resulting heartbreak and contentious divorces inspired state lawmakers to take action on this important issue by passing AB 2274. The bill became a new law, which took effect as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Now, couples who file for divorce have the option of asking the courts to make a custody arrangement for the pets. If you file an uncontested divorce, you can set your own terms for sharing custody. Otherwise, you can ask the court to make a determination much like they would in a child custody situation.

The courts will focus on what is best for the animal

When determining how to split up custody of minor children, the primary consideration for the California family courts is always the best interest of the children. Now, the courts will apply the same rule to any pets that you want to retain or share custody of in a divorce.

The courts will look at the length and nature of the relationship, as well as the ability of each spouse to provide the support and care that the animal requires. Although pets are still technically possessions or property under California law, the new approach respects their needs, as well as the important role that companion animals can play in the lives and well-being of many people.

Shared pet custody could mean alternating weeks or even months between households for your companion animal. It may also be possible for a spouse to request visitation arrangements where they spend time with the animal even if they can't house it in their current residence.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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