In previous posts, we have discussed the challenges that pet owners face when they divorce and must decide what happens to the pet. These challenges stem from the law that currently sees pets as property, which means the courts have treated animals less like members of the family and more like a piece of furniture.
However, that is changing in 2019, thanks to a new law recently passed in California. The new law requires courts to assign custody of a pet in cases where one or both parties to the divorce makes such a request.
Sole and joint custody
The law provides that, upon request of one of the owners, the courts will assign joint or sole ownership of an animal.
To make this decision, the statute directs courts to consider the care of the animal. This means deciding which party may be best suited to prevent acts of cruelty or harm involving the pet and which party can provide shelter, safety, food, water and medical care for the animal.
If one party is not capable of providing such care, the courts can deny ownership to that person. If both parties are equally capable, the courts could assign joint ownership.
The intent is to keep animals safe and ensure they do not end up abandoned or put in danger with an unfit care provider.
Making the decision out of court
For many years, pet owners have made these types of decisions on their own outside of court, often in mediation sessions or mutual discussions.
However, if parties could not agree on what to do with a pet, the decision was left in the hands of the court. There was no guarantee that a specific judge would take an animal’s best interest into consideration when making a decision, which is why the new law is so important.
Starting next year, divorcing pet owners in California can feel confident that their beloved animal companion will have proper care.