Pet Custody

My two dogs, Murphy and Angel.

Pet Custody

By: Cristin M. Lowe

With two dogs of my own that are spoiled beyond belief, I am certainly not of the opinion that they are merely property.  In California, however, pets are considered property and therefore divisible under marital property laws.  Most animal lovers are inclined to disagree with the legislature and instead look to more creative solutions for continuing to remain an active part of their pets’ lives even after the divorce.  Since courts realize that agreements reached between the parties are a far superior solution to resolving a divorce in comparison to a trial, judges will almost always approve of an agreement crafted between the parties.

Many divorce settlements result in both parties sharing “custody” of the pets.  Although not technically a recognized legal concept, as soon as the parties’ agreement becomes an order of the Court, it becomes enforceable.  If the parties have minor children, a fantastic solution is to simply keep the pets on the same parenting schedule as the children.  That way, the children will never be without their pets, and both parents will be able to spend time with the pets, too.

If you are considering a shared parenting plan of your pets, it is extremely important to hammer out all of the details.  While a visitation schedule may be reasonably simple to agree to, the costs associated with caring for a pet (which all pet lovers know are exorbitant) need to be discussed.  On the easiest level, who is responsible for food, vaccinations, and licensing?  On a more difficult level, who gets the final say in whether to treat your dog’s cancer or euthanize him?  Finally, remember that if you do not have children, continuing to share custody of the pets will require ongoing communication with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, which is an additional commitment.

In most cases, pets are treated just like all other marital property, since pets are considered personal property under California state property laws.

However, many pet owners have begun to file lawsuits challenging the longstanding view of the treatment of pets in divorce proceedings. Often, it’s the spouse who did not receive the family pet as part of the divorce settlement that seeks “visitation” or “custody” rights.

While California has not enacted any special laws to treat pets as anything other than personal property or to specifically authorize “pet visitation,” many courts are willing to entertain such requests. Furthermore, there has been recent legislation that gives pets and pet owners more rights.

Restraining Orders for Pets?

As of January 1, 2008, pet owners can now seek restraining orders to allow them immediate control and possession of their pet.

Pursuant to Family Code 6320 family law and domestic violence courts are allowed to make restraining orders that will protect your pet. The restraining orders may include the following:

  • You can obtain an ex parte (or emergency) restraining order to allow control of the animal to one person or the other, and stay away order.
  • Issuance of ex parte order (on an emergency basis)
  • On a showing of good cause, grant to petitioner exclusive care, possession, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept or help by either the petitioner or the respondent or a minor child residing in the residence of petitioner or the respondent.
  • Authorizes a stay away from the animal; and,
  • Forbid respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, molesting, striking, threatening, harming, or otherwise disposing of the animal
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