Pets and Divorce in California Courts

Many people consider a dog or a cat to be a member of the family, so the custody of the beloved pet, emotional support or service animal can be one of the highest priorities in a California divorce. This article will summarize how the law treats the custody of pets.  

Where can I find the California law related to pet custody?

In 2019, a new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in California divorce cases. See California Family Code §2605.

Before this law was enacted, the courts treated animals as property to be awarded to one party or the other. Judges did not have a lot of guidance and had wide discretion on their decisions relating to animals. 

What are the legal standards for pet custody?

  • A judge can make temporary pet custody orders while the divorce is pending, which do not impact the final order
  • The judge has the power to award custody of the pet jointly to the spouses or to one spouse exclusively. The judge must consider which spouse has provided care for the pet, which includes food, medical, shelter and protection.
  • The judge can make a joint custody order where the pet “parents” will share time and medical decisions or the judge can award the pet to one of the spouses exclusively. 

How can you bolster your pet custody case?

Every case is unique, but some general principles in bolstering your pet custody case are the importance of caring for your pet and documenting your involvement. 

  • Keep a record of your care of the pet, including walking, feeding, grooming, and caring for your pet’s needs. 
  • If you have not been the primary caretaker of your pet, increase your involvement in meeting the pet’s daily needs. 
  • Consider what witnesses you may have to document your involvement with your pet. 

Contact an Experienced Divorce Firm

Family law is a unique subset of the law, so you need an attorney who has experience to help you navigate the system. If you need help with a pet custody issue or any concern relating to divorce or family law, contact the Law Office of David Knecht.  We have extensive experience with family law and can help you succeed. Contact us at 707-451-4502.