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When You Divorce, Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

Since January 1, 2019, California judges have the power to take a pet's best interests into consideration when making decisions in divorce cases. This means either party can legally petition the court for joint or sole ownership of a pet.  

How Were Pets Previously Treated in Divorce? 

Before 2019, pets were treated as marital property. This means the court used community and separate property laws to determine who should keep the family pet after divorce. For example, if one party owned a dog before they were married, they would retain ownership of that animal after the divorce. However, if one party acquired a dog with marital funds, the parties or the court would need to decide which party would retain ownership of the dog. 

Pet’s Best Interests 

Like child custody determinations, a court will decide who should retain ownership of the pet based on what it believes to be in the pet’s best interests.  

A judge will make a decision after reviewing the following criteria: 

  • who feeds the animal most regularly; 
  • who takes the animal to vet appointments; 
  • who maintains the animal’s daily care; 
  • who has more time to care for the animal; 
  • who has primary custody of minor children; and 
  • who has a greater emotional attachment to the animal. 

If minor children are involved in the divorce, a judge will usually grant ownership of the animal to the party with primary custody of the children. This is because children tend to form attachments to their pets and a court will most likely keep the child and pet together to make the transition easier on the child.   

Let Us Help You Determine Pet Ownership 

California divorce can be emotionally and financially exhausting. Determining who will retain custody of the family pet(s) only adds to the emotional toll. Our attorneys can help you and your ex come up with a solution that will best benefit your pet and the rest of the family.  

Call our firm at (949) 577-7935 or contact us online today to get started! 

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