According to the ASPCA, 44% of American households own at least one dog and 35% of households own at least one cat. Animal companions are held dear in our society, one of the only societies in the world to treat animals as important and special as fellow humans.
With the new generation, adopting an animal has become more common than having children now. According to the Washington Post, 75% of Americans in their thirties are dog owners, while 50% are proud cat owners. Millennials are also more likely to marry later in life, thus making these statistics incredibly important to consider when approaching the topic of family pets during a divorce.
If you are beginning the process of going through a divorce, it is necessary to hire a divorce attorney in order to ensure the best placement of your animal companion and understand the laws that govern the process. Below we discuss how animals are classified as property in California and the two ways divorce attorneys help clients through this when dealing with pets during divorce.
How Are Pets During Divorce Classified?
Before a groundbreaking new law passed in 2018, pets were considered property, alongside a car or piece of furniture, simply an asset to distribute in a divorce. One California case valued an adopted animal at $20; purebreds were considered higher in value based on evidence produced at trial and industry standards.
The legal system started to notice more and more cases introducing the sentient nature of companion animals and the difficultly in simply distributing pets during divorce. On September 27, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB2274 requiring courts to view pet “ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example… [C]ourts will award custody on what is best for the animal.”
This is a monumental win for pet owners in California who can rely on a more appropriate standard when assigning ownership of the family pet. Although pets during divorce are still technically categorized as property, they are more aptly valued based on societal changes and views.
Summary: While pets used to be classified as mere property, a new law passed in 2018 recognizes the importance of companion animals in our culture and now requires courts to consider the best interest of the pet when deciding ownership of the pets during divorce.
Why A Marital Settlement Agreement Is Helpful
As an alternative to pursuing court action regarding ownership of your pets during divorce proceedings, you and your spouse, with the help of your skilled divorce attorney, can create a marital settlement agreement that allows you to decide the fate of your family pet.
It is often the case that the court is not well trained on dealing with emotionally charged situations regarding family pets and may not have a lot of experience in dealing with this particular situation. This situation is a rather new concept in California courts and still needs some time to work out how to successfully execute the new law.
Leaving any decision regarding issues related to your divorce up to a judge that isn’t as invested in the outcome as you is never recommended. Mutually drafting a marital settlement agreement that identifies where the family pet will live, visitation, and expenses typically results in both parties feeling good about the outcome. Our divorce attorneys are experienced in mediating marital settlement agreements so both parties feel heard and validated.
Summary: A marital settlement agreement allows you and your spouse to decide the outcome of your family pet and typically results in both spouses feeling like they were valued in the process.
The Court Deciding Custody Of Pets During A Divorce
If a marital settlement agreement is not possible with your spouse, then your attorney will advise you that the court will decide custody of the family pet. With this new law, and a handful of cases that allow us to essentially boil down factors a judge may consider when determining custody of the family pets during a divorce, we are able to outline them below:
- Primary Caretaker of the Animal
- Best Home Environment
- Financially Care for Pet
- Emotional Attachment of Pet
- Who Adopted/Bought the Pet
- When Was the Pet Brought Into the Home
- Which Spouses Lifestyle Best Fits the Pets Size, Characteristics, and Needs
Usually, if the family pet was adopted or bought before the marriage, the judge will typically award ownership to the spouse that acquired the pet first, unless there is a strong reason why that would not be in the best interest of the pet.
Summary: There are several factors that judges contemplate when deciding how to award custody of a family pet, however a new law allows the judge to consider what is in the best interest of the pet when determining custody.
Contact An Experienced And Skilled Divorce Attorney Now To Protect Your Pet Ownership Rights And Bring Your Furry Loved One Home.
The thought of having to part with your pets during divorce can be a stressful and overwhelming situation; most individuals consider pets part of the family. It is essential to discuss your case and concerns about your pets during divorce proceedings so that you are prepared and your divorce attorney can expertly guide you.
With an advocate by your side you will feel more confident when gathering evidence concerning pet custody decisions, be able to highlight important factors the judge is likely to consider, and better understand the process.
If you are going through a divorce with the custody of your animal companion at stake, contact divorce attorney Bruce A. Mandel as soon as possible. You can also follow us on our FaceBook page Bruce Mandel Family Law, fill out our online contact form or reach us at (424) 250-9130. With almost three decades of advocating on the behalf of clients in the family law field, you can rest assured your case will be expertly represented.