In which family law category do pet disputes in divorce belong?

California spouses filing paperwork to end their marriages in 2019 likely understand that the process ahead may include some serious challenges. Especially if children are involved, numerous issues must be negotiated and resolved before a fair and agreeable settlement can be achieved. What about pets? In divorce, should disputes over a cat, dog or other animal be resolved as custody issues or in property division proceedings?

In this state, former Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law before he left office. The new law includes a set of guidelines for judges to use to determine what is best for a pet in a particular divorce situation, making such issues a matter of custody. In fact, many states are beginning to consider such matters custody issues rather than property division topics as was the custom in the past.

A spouse can file a petition for custody of a pet in this state. A judge will then take certain factors under consideration, such as which spouse spent most time with the pet during marriage. Other factors considered will be who usually performed tasks to care for the pet, such as filling bowls with fresh water and food, taking the pet to the veterinarian as needed, and taking him or her for walks, if pertinent.

Several other states have adopted similar statutes that categorize pet issues in divorce as custody matters. While pets are technically property because they are not children, the unique nature of a relationship between a pet and its owner includes emotional bonds and other issues that many judges deem appropriate to be litigated in custody proceedings. This means that an experienced family law attorney can act on behalf of a California pet owner to request physical custody, visitation or even financial support as part of a settlement.

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