If you own show pets or purebreds that you breed, your pet is not just a precious loved one, but also financially valuable. Therefore, deciding who gets the pet in a divorce can be a financial and emotional decision.
Pets as property?
It used to be the case that under California law, pets were considered property and were subject to state property division laws in a divorce. California is a community property state, meaning that pets, along with the furniture, automobiles and other assets were assigned a value. You and your ex had an equal ownership interest in these marital assets, which would be divided roughly evenly.
Needless to say, traditional property division laws seemed harsh when it came to pets. After all, you likely have much stronger feelings towards your pet compared to the sofa. Moreover, if your pet was a thoroughbred that you showed or bred, it is likely that you do not want to lose that income stream much less the emotional attachment you have to your pet.
Pet custody: Is there such a thing?
The state of California changed its laws on pets and divorce in 2019. Now, courts may create “shared custody” orders for pets. Judges have the discretion to consider the best interests of the pet and make a “shared custody” order accordingly. This may mean awarding custody of the pet to one party alone or arrange a visitation schedule.
Pets and divorce
It is important to note that despite the new law, there is not a lot of guidance courts can look when making such decisions. It is a relatively new law and courts are merely authorized to create a pet custody order rather than being required to do so in a divorce. So, while traditional property division laws regarding pets have not entirely gone away, the best interests of the pet may be considered in a California divorce.