New California law creates pet custody in divorce

Unless there is a prenuptial agreement in place, among the most complicated matters in any divorce between high-income spouses is what to do with major assets, like a family-owned business, investments and real estate holdings. Some of these items may hold some sentimental value on top of their monetary worth. But for many pet owners, getting to keep their beloved animal companions is perhaps just as important as getting their fair share of the marital property.

Thanks to a new California law, family court judges can now order shared pet custody arrangements that must consider “the care of the pet animal.” This makes California just the third state in the U.S. to adopt pet custody.

Now pets are more than property

It is a radical departure from traditional divorce law. In most of the country, your beloved Rex or Tiger would be treated as “chattel,” a legal term for personal property. If you and your spouse could not settle on who gets to keep the pets or work out some sort of shared “custody” plan, the judge would treat the matter the same as a dispute over a car or piece of furniture.

Now, things in California have changed. Things like which spouse the pet is closer to, and which spouse (if either) is staying in the marital home, can now be considered. As an animal law expert told NBC News, pets are living creatures that often react to the emotional upheaval of divorce similarly to children. Therefore, it is cruel for courts to ignore pets’ emotional well-being.

The benefit to pet owners

For pet owners, arguing over the fate of their cats, dogs or other animals can make what is already a stressful time worse. The new law may help people in this situation feel better knowing that shared custody may still be an option for a pet neither spouse is willing to say goodbye to.

Why you need the right divorce lawyer by your side

That being said, there is usually a lot more to work out in divorce than where the family pets will live from now on. Matters like property division and child custody are serious. They require serious, compassionate representation from an experienced Southern California family law attorney.

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