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Who gets the family pet in divorce?

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2021 | Property Division |

Pets have long been thought of as marital property, treated similarly to the other shared assets that couples would need to split. After January 1, 2019, the way pets are handled in divorce changed thanks to a new law, AB-2274. Now, you can expect to treat your pet similarly to children, allowing you to ask for custody of your pet, whether sole or joint, and to make sure that the final decision is what’s in the best interests of your pet.

Now, the court has the option of awarding temporary custody of a pet based on the wellbeing of that pet during the divorce. Pet custody, an official term, is very similar to child custody in this sense.

What factors determine who gets the family pet?

There are a few factors that might determine who gets the family pet, such as:

  • Who has the space to take care of the pet
  • Under whose name the animal is registered
  • Who regularly takes the pet to the veterinarian
  • Who plays with, feeds and walks the pet
  • The emotional connection between the pet and its owners

There is one additional consideration, which is if one of the parties uses this animal as an emotional support or service animal. In that case, it may be most beneficial to leave the pet with the party that it is serving and supporting.

Pets aren’t property, they’re living creatures

It’s important that you understand that pets are now seen as living beings with preferences and care needs. Their health and wellbeing is something that the court will consider in a divorce case.

You or your spouse has the right to ask for joint custody of a pet that you’ve shared. If you owned your pet before your marriage, it may be kept in your care, kind of like separate property, but you may want to consider if this is really what’s in the pet’s best interests, too. Animals often have emotional bonds with their owners, so it’s necessary to consider if a custody schedule would be appropriate for the pet or if sole custody is a better option.


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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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