California’s New Law for Companion Pet Custody

For many people, a pet animal is more than just property over which they exercise ownership – they are considered to be a member of the family. Effective this year, California law now provides for court consideration of a companion pet’s wellbeing and care. This article looks at the new law.

Pets As Property

Under California law, a family pet is considered the personal property of the person or person who purchased it. The rules of community property indicate that, as personal property, a family pet that was purchased by a married couple during marriage constitutes community property, unless it qualifies as an individual spouse’s personal property. A pet is considered to be the separate property of a spouse if acquired before marriage or after the couple’s separation. Also, a pet is regarded as the separate property of a spouse if acquired during marriage through gift or inheritance.

Accordingly, both spouses have an equal ownership interest in a community property family pet. Historically, courts would resolve property division issues regarding pets like any other property. If the parties could not accept a method of sharing ownership of their pet, California courts had the authority to order the sale of the pet, splitting the sale proceeds between spouses.

Pet Custody Under California Family Code § 2605

Effective January 1, 2019, Section 2605 was added to the California Family Code, which focused on providing care to family pets pending divorce and giving courts the authority to make joint ownership decisions based on the care of a pet.

Under Section 2605 “care” is defined as “the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty…and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.” Significantly, the new law provides that “the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.”

Accordingly, courts can order – upon request – the parties to alternate periods of pet custody, not unlike how child custody might be arranged. Such an arrangement was previously established only through stipulation according to the terms of a marital settlement agreement. However, courts may now make a custodial arrangement for pets upon the request of a party, taking into consideration the pet’s best interests.

California is the third state to pass a law that gives family law courts guidance as to the interests and well-being of pets in divorces, after Alaska and Illinois passed their own similar laws in 2016 and 2017.

In explaining the motivation behind the law, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who introduced the legislation last year as AB 2274 to the California Assembly, stated that “There is nothing in the statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”

Contact Moshtael Family Law at (714) 909-2561 for Advice on Your Divorce Case

If you are confronting the prospect of dissolving your marriage through divorce proceedings, you should seek the advice of an experienced California divorce attorney for legal counsel. At Moshtael Family Law, we have nearly two centuries of combined legal experience regarding family law matters including community property issues in a divorce. Our legal team is dedicated to working tirelessly to reach a mutually beneficial resolution to your family law issues.

Contact Moshtael Family Law online to set up a complimentary case evaluation with one of our skilled attorneys about your case today.