Who Keeps the Pet?

Pet custody is proven to be a great hurdle for couples heading to divorce. In the United States, it is common law that animals are considered personal property. Animals face the discrimination similar to Africans and women in the 17th century with their status as property.  Their exertion of rights was a difficult battle when all they were worth was a monetary value. Likewise, since the law refuses to recognize that animals have their own interests, they have little value and legal status as mere property. Therefore, families facing pet custody disputes have to solve their issues in civil, not family, court.

When it comes to pets, it is a matter of ownership rather than custody. However, there is a growing tendency among judges to decide on the “ownership” of a companion animal based on the interests of the pet. Pets are now being looked at as an equivalent to a child. California now has the California Family Code Section 6320 which protects domestic animals if there is a reason to believe one of the parties may cause harm to the pet. This proves that pets are getting more recognition for their rights.  In 2007, California even passed litigation to protect animals in domestic violence situations. If there is domestic abuse, the litigation will allow pets to be included in domestic violence restraining orders and also require law enforcements to remove animals for domestic violence situations.

When it comes to “custody” of the pet, you best option is to write a pre-nup that clearly describes whom keeps ownership of the pet, shared costs for big ticket items such as vet, boarding, and how-to-end-a-life decisions. Having these agreements laid out on paper will help ease the stress later down the line.  Family court judges in California will sign off on most divorce settlements that a couple can agree on, and having the care of the family pets written into the settlement is the best way to avoid future conflict. You should keep in mind that if there are children whom are attached to the pet, you should bring the pet to where the children are. Or if the pet belonged to you before marriage, the pet is essentially in your ownership.  Unfortunately, there is not much of a “custody” issue when it comes to companion pets because they are properties. The only way that pet custody could be linked to family law is if the pet plays a significant role in a divorce.