California’s statutes recognize pets as part of a married couple’s family instead of reflecting personal property. If you or your soon-to-be ex-spouse brought animals into a same-sex relationship before your marriage, however, they may classify as your separate property.
According to the Judicial Branch of California website, separate property includes inheritances or gifts. If you received a pet as a gift, it may stay with you. Pets purchased or adopted while married, however, may involve discussions on which spouse takes custody.
Who could take custody of the animals?
Family courts generally do not award shared custody of a couple’s animals as they do with children. MarketWatch reports that California law requires judges to take into consideration a pet’s best interests.
Even if an animal belongs to one spouse, a judge may determine which spouse could afford to take care of it. Veterinarian records or receipts for a dog’s grooming, for example, may show the extent of its caretaking. Your divorce settlement may include instructions for your animal’s ownership.
Why would a spouse want to take custody of a pet?
Pets that classify as a spouse’s separate property may have become a close member of your household. To avoid a contentious divorce, it may help to discuss taking custody of pets so that they could continue living with you or your children.
The American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a study and found that 76% of feline owners and 85% of canine owners include animals as their family. Children, for example, may have bonded with a spouse’s separately owned animals. If a judge decides that a pet’s best interests include remaining with your kids, its new residence may become part of the divorce decree.