Starting January 1st, 2019, a new law came into force in California that allows pets to be treated more than just community property at the time of property division in a divorce. Before this law was passed, dogs, cats, and other pets were divided just like any other piece of property in a California divorce.
However, under the new law, the family law courts deal with disputes related to pets in a divorce just the way they handle child custody issues. The judge will consider the pet’s present and future welfare while determining who gets to keep the pet in a divorce.
If you want to keep the pet, your divorce attorney in Orange County will try to prove before the court that you are in a better position to provide care for the pet. The judge will look at facts such as which of the two parties is able to feed the pet better, take them for daily walks, protect them from harm, and provide the best veterinary care for the pet.
Under this new California law, at the time of your divorce, you can request the court to grant you sole or joint ownership of the pet. The court will consider your ability to care for the pet, which is legally defined to include provision of safe and protective shelter, provision of water, food and vet care, and prevention against acts of cruelty or harm.
The law also says that you can petition the court to order one of the parties in the divorce to provide care for the pet during the intervening period before the divorce has become final.
Prior to the new law, the rules regarding the treatment of pets in a California divorce were very general. The pet was viewed as a community property, which you could argue over just like any other asset or debt at the time of property division.
Community property in California is anything a couple acquires during the course of marriage. Based on this old law that valued pets like any other financial asset, the pet’s ownership would go to one party either through mutual settlement between the spouses or by court’s order. The pet’s well-being was not a primary consideration because they would be treated like property.
Supporters of the law argue that the previous statute had nothing that could direct the courts to treat pets as distinct from other assets that have a dollar value. However, in practice, pet owners treat their pets as something more than mere property.
Pets become an integral part of the family, and therefore, during a divorce proceeding, their care and welfare should be a vital consideration. Many pet lovers believe that this law will reduce homelessness of the pets in the state. However, the naysayers opine that divorces in California already face contentious issues, particularly with regard to child custody.
When sole or joint pet ownership is added to the equation, the divorce proceedings can become more prolonged and contentious. Determining which of the two parties is in a better position to care for a family dog or cat is more complicated work for the courts.
Considering these aspects, you should make sure that you have a strong legal representation from an Orange County divorce attorney if pet ownership is going to be a serious issue in your property division.
At first, your divorce lawyer will help you negotiate with your ex-spouse about pet custody so that an amicable settlement can be reached on this matter. If, however, you or the other party fails to agree on pet custody, your attorney may recommend the mediation process to resolve the issue.
As your pet is not a financial object like other community property, letting the court make a decision on this matter should only be your last resort. Your attorney may be able to convince you and the other party to decide based on what you both see is best for your pet.
For instance, if you are going to live in the marital house, which is spacious and has a backyard, and your pet is already used to that home, it may be best if the pet stays with you. Your attorney may be able to present this logic to the other party, particularly if he or she is going to move to a small apartment with no yard space. The other party can receive visitation rights, while primarily the pet lives in the marital home.
If negotiation or mediation does not work to resolve the pet ownership, the court will make a decision for both of you. If both of you are emotionally attached with your pet, the court may award joint custody to both of you. If the court sees the situation differently, the pet may get to stay only with one pet-parent.
Pets need space to move around freely and naturally. The court will look at a number of factors related to the pet’s welfare, and a spacious, pet-safe home, ideally with yard space, may be one of the important factors in this decision. As per the new law, the court will also consider the ability of each party to provide thorough pet care.
When so much is going on in your mind at the time of divorce, you may lose sight of the fact that you need the constant company of your pet after your split. Emotions from both sides may be involved when it comes to pets in a property division. You should ensure you have excellent legal representation to negotiate or prove your right to the ownership of your pet in an Orange County divorce.
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