If you know me, you know that my dog Mochi is like my child. Yes, I am one of those people. My family celebrates his birthday, my co-workers ask how he is doing, and my dad even gets him a Christmas gift every year.
As a pet owner, I understand the importance of protecting a pet and doing everything we can to protect their well-being. That is why I have been excited to see the laws evolve to give pets more protection under the law. Below are two ways you may not know you can protect your pet under your Family Law case.
1) INCLUDING YOUR PET UNDER YOUR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER
One of the questions I always make sure to ask when filing a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) on behalf of our clients is if they have any pets. The reason for this question is that not many people know that when requesting a DVRO, you can request for your pet to be protected as well. Through a DVRO, you can not only request that the restrained party stay away from your pet, you can also decide how many yards the restrained party is to stay away. You can request for the Court to grant you the exclusive right and control over your pet, pending resolution of your restraining order case or until further court order.
*Pictured: Mochi in November 2019 on his 10th birthday party celebration in San Diego, CA.
An example of this request can be seen on form DV-100, section No. 11:
Form DV-100 provides clients with space to explain why you believe your pet should also be protected by the restraining order. If the space provided is not enough, you have a right to attach a declaration further outlining why your pet is in danger and in need for protection.
There are two instances in your DVRO case that the Judge will make an order about your pet. Once, when issuing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which typically lasts for 21 days pending a permanent hearing date.
Once your TRO is granted, it is time to have the opposing side served with the paperwork. One way for the TRO paperwork to be served is through the Sheriff’s department. Often, after picking up our clients’ TRO paperwork where a restraining order has been granted, I like to take the paperwork to the Sheriff myself and point out that the order also protects the family pet. I ask the Sheriff that if service on the opposing side is being made at the family residence or anywhere near the family pet, for the Sheriff to make sure that the family pet is not taken by the restrained party and I show the Sheriff where in the order it states that the family pet is protected. Surprisingly, most Sheriffs take my request very seriously and assure me that they will do everything they can to keep an eye out for the family pet when serving the restrained party.
The second instance the Judge will decide on the protection of your family pet is at the permanent restraining order hearing. At the hearing, you have a right to present evidence as to any abuse that your pet may have suffered at the hands of the restrained party to support your argument that your pet should also be included in the permanent restraining order. Unlike a temporary restraining order, a permanent restraining order can last anywhere from 3 months- 5 years. Evidence of abuse against your pet by the restrained party can include pictures, witness testimony, or your own testimony.
2) THE COURT CAN ASSIGN SOLE OR JOINT OWNERSHIP OF YOUR PET AS PART OF YOUR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE or LEGAL SEPARATION CASE.
Before January 1, 2019, a pet was merely property that upon dissolution of marriage, and each spouse would be entitled to half the value of the pet/animal.
However, as of January 1, 2019, California’s governor signed into law AB 2274, which requires a Court to assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet and to take into consideration the care of the pet in dissolution of marriage or legal separation cases, if this request is made by a party to the case.
This code specifically outlines the definition of what “caring” for a pet means and allows a Judge to order that a pet in a dissolution of marriage or legal separation case be protected from animal cruelty and acts of harm.
Further, this code essentially allows the Court to decide which party is better suited to care for an animal, if the animal should be in the sole custody of one party, or if the parties can share custody of the animal. Thanks to this law, the Court has the discretion to order a custody schedule that takes into consideration the care and safety of your pet.
Dealing with a restraining order, a divorce or a legal separation can be stressful. However, thankfully, the law now allows you as a pet owner to assure that your pet is protected during stressful times like these.
By: Gisela Acevedo, Esq., Attorney at Contreras Law Firm