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Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet in California?

People have always loved their pets, but it is undeniable that the importance people place on their pets has grown in recent years, with whole sub-industries devoted to pet services, from doggy daycares, therapy for pets, and, in California naturally, marijuana for pets. In short, many people treat their pets like children, and this can be especially the case when they do not have children. But what does this mean in the scope of a divorce dispute in California?
There Are No Custody and Visitation Laws for Pets in California
Although you may think of your pet as your shared child, the law in California does not. While California law focuses on the best interests of actual human children in determining custody and visitation arrangements, it does not apply these concepts to pets, although you may have heard of other states doing so.

Instead, the law treats a pet as piece of property in the same way it would treat furniture, vehicles, jewelry, and so on. Which is to say that your pet will be considered either community property or separate property. If you acquired the pet on your own before the marriage, then the pet will be considered separate property, meaning he or she is yours to keep after the marriage.

But if you acquired the pet during the marriage, it will most likely be considered community property (unless the pet was gifted directly to you and you alone, or you purchased the pet with funds you had prior to the marriage). That means that the pet will be considered to belong to both you and your spouse, even if you took care of the pet completely on your own.
When a Pet is Community Property
As you may know, a couple’s community property is split 50/50 between the spouses in California. This does not mean that your family court judge is going to go all King Solomon on you and threaten to split the pet in half. Instead, a court will look at the total value of all of your property and work towards a solution in which each spouse gets approximately 50% of the value of the property.

Of course, putting a cash value on a pet is a bit ridiculous, as there is an emotional bond with a pet that cannot be replaced simply by taking funds and going out and buying a new one. Furthermore, things can get ugly when another spouse – who may have no interest in the pet whatsoever – tries to use your emotional bond with the pet against you by threatening to take the pet.

First off, it is unwise to respond to such threats by offering to give the other spouse everything (or a large chunk) just to keep the pet. Family court judges understand this tactic, and they will not look kindly on spouses who attempt to intimidate the other spouse with threats over pets.

Similarly, while a judge is not going to dwell on the fortunes of a pet as much as a child, most judges do want positive outcomes for all involved, and will be amenable to awarding a pet to the spouse who has the proven responsibility of caring for the pet.

Finally, as in most family law situations, the ideal situation is to work with an attorney and/or mediator to create a settlement agreement which deals with all issues, including pet matters, in a mutually beneficial manner outside of court.
Get Answers to Your California Family Law Questions
At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/divorce process. Our partners, Brian A. Baker and Gary W. Kearney, are both Family Law Specialists, as certified by the California State Bar. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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