There are many ways in which your dog, cat or other pet is different from other items you own. For one thing, the animal is a living creature, and you may even feel that your pet understands what you say and perceives your emotions. You would probably not take your sofa on vacation with you or allow a lamp to sleep in the bed with you, but many pet owners extend these privileges to their furry companions.

Unfortunately, in the past, if you were facing a divorce in California, your pet did not get the same consideration in court as it did in your home. In fact, in many states, divorce courts see pets as property, like your sofa or lamp. This often leads to contentious property division battles where one spiteful spouse fights for possession of a pet only so the other cannot have the animal who is a beloved companion. Recently, however, a new California law is changing the landscape for pets during divorce.

The details of the law

Before the passage of this bill, divorce laws in most states weighed pets during property division according to their financial value. The court counted the pet’s worth along with the value of the furniture, vehicles and home, and divided those items between the spouses. This may make little sense to you if you rescued a mutt from the shelter instead of bought a purebred show dog. You may have as much trouble placing monetary value on your pet as you do on your children.

More pet owners going through divorce have struggled with the court’s cold treatment of their animals. You may be among those who are grateful for the new bill, which — if you or your spouse request its implementation — offers judges leniency to make the following decisions:

  • Assign one spouse to care for the pet during divorce proceedings to ensure the animal will have consistent and proper treatment
  • Consider the best options for the animal’s continued care
  • Assign ownership of the pet to one spouse or grant joint ownership with a fair division of custody
  • Evaluate the animal’s preference for one or the other spouse

Many fear this law will bog down divorces and add more congestion to the already burdened court systems. However, if the fate of your beloved pet is in question, you certainly want the best possible outcome.