Looking out for Fido in California Divorce

In our society, dogs and other pets are viewed as beloved members of the family, with many referring to them as “fur babies” or “children”.  During a divorce proceeding, the care and custody of the family pet is often a large concern.  However, until recently, there has been no statutory guidance to tell courts how to handle this difficult issue. 

The lack of guidance essentially left individual judge’s discretion to determine how divorcing parties split a shared pet or whether to even entertain argument on the issue.  In some cases, the court would follow a property analysis, attempt to identify the person who paid for the pet’s adoption or purchase fees, and deem that person the pet’s owner. In other cases, there was no mention at all of the pet and their post-divorce fate.  Even if a court did make orders for the placement of the pet, typically no further orders were made about the requirement to provide ongoing care for the pet.

There have been extremes on both ends. In a 2002 case in Southern California, a compassionate judge ordered that parties arguing about their dog submit to bonding tests with an animal behaviorist to determine where the dog should live. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Pennsylvania appellate court dismissed an issue regarding custody of a dog stating it was “analogous in the law, to a visitation schedule for a table or lamp”.

California, often willing to take the lead in expanding social jurisprudence, has now adopted a statute to address this issue.  California adopted Family Code Section 2605 effective January 1, 2019. Under this statute, courts can now assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet taking into account the best interests of the pet and which party is better suited to fulfill the pet’s needs. The court can even make temporary orders regarding a pet’s care before a final judgment of dissolution is entered, which can include shared custody with time sharing arrangements between the two households. 

As California is often a “trend setter”, it will be interesting to see if more states follow by enacting legislation to address pets in divorce situations.

Stacey F. Herhusky

Stacey F. Herhusky is a partner at the Incline Law Group, LLP. Incline Law Group, LLP - Providing Legal Clarity for Over 40 Years Incline Law Group, LLP, is committed to providing legal clarity. Our transparent approach to delivering legal services is designed to get beneath the surface of the matter in order to minimize surprises and maximize our clients’ outcomes. Founded in 1973 by John C. Rogers, Incline Law Group has earned a reputation for professionalism, discretion, honesty, diligence and positive results. Our attorneys are licensed in Nevada and California and have been providing legal clarity in the areas of Real Estate, Litigation, Family Law, Contracts, Business Formation and Estate Planning for over 40 years to our Northern Nevada and California communities. Stacey has been practicing law for 20 years and is licensed to practice in all courts of California and Nevada. Stacey focuses on Family Law and practices regularly in Washoe County, Placer County, Nevada County, Douglas County, Carson City, El Dorado County, Sierra County. Stacey's areas of practice include: - Family law - Divorce and separation - Mediation - Child custody and visitation - Child support - Spousal support - Paternity - Domestic partnerships - Asset and debt division - Cohabitation agreements - Premarital and post marital agreements - Post-judgement modification and enforcement - Restraining orders - Adoptions - Annulments - Grandparent rights - Guardianship - Termination of parental rights - Complex family law litigation Stacey is a member of the State Bar of Nevada, the State Bar of California, the Washoe County Bar Association and the Truckee Tahoe Bar Association.

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