“Yes and No,” Says the State of California:
California has a specific law addressing family pets. In Assembly Bill No. 2274, enacted as Section 2605 of the California Family Code in 2019, pet animals are identified as a special consideration in the division of community property.
Under Section 2605, parties seeking legal separation or divorce may enter an order to determine who cares for their pet during the legal proceedings. They can also ask the court to assign sole or joint ownership of the pet at the end of the divorce or separation.
When deciding who gets the family pet, the court will consider who cares for the pet by preventing harm or cruelty and providing food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.
A Note About Pet Custody
Please note that the court will not award the custody or visitation of a pet, nor will it act in the pet’s best interests.
In California courts, pets are not children. Section 2605 defines a pet animal as, “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.” Essentially, pets are still property, but they are subject to special considerations in court.
Pets Are Property, But They Aren’t Inanimate Objects
Before AB 2274, pets were not considered any differently from inanimate objects, like cars, televisions, toasters, and furniture. If there were disputes about a family pet, courts could order a couple to sell it and split the proceeds.
Now, pets are no longer viewed by their monetary value or awarded based on who paid the adoption or purchase fee but considered as living beings that need care.
The court will allow separating couples to share caretaking responsibilities – or award the animal to the individual who cares for it.
Why Doesn’t the Court Accept That Pets Are Family Members?
California does not go as far as acknowledging that pets are family members because the state’s family law courts are already overrun with child custody and visitation disputes. By continuing to treat pets as property (albeit property that must be cared for), the new law is avoiding ongoing disputes about where a pet lives, who pays its veterinary bills, and other pet-related concerns.
With Section 2605, California walks the fine line of viewing pets as more than just property without viewing them as children or other family members.
You might feel like a “cat dad” or a “dog mom,” but the court is not ready to acknowledge you as such.
Fortunately, divorcing couples can always work out an arrangement that works for them outside of court. You can either provide for the care and ownership of your pet in your divorce decree or create an enforceable contract outside of family law court.
We are backed by more than 100 years of combined experience, and our lead attorneys are Board Certified in Family Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.
Our team is committed to clients like you and dedicated to obtaining real results.
If your cat, dog, lizard, bird, or other pet animal is the most important part of your divorce or separation, call us at (949) 565-4158 or contact us online to find out how we can help.
We offer free case reviews, so you can determine whether we are the right firm to protect your furry, feathery, or scaly friend!