Family Law Watch: The Case For Pet Custody In Divorce

By The Family Law Watch Team

Pets are becoming increasingly integrated into the family unit, and for many American families, pets may be just as important as children. The law, however, does not afford spouses the same rights with regard to pets that it does with children. Pets are still considered “property,” so there is no “custody” issue to be resolved. But this doesn’t change the fact that when couples face divorce, a decision must be made as to who gets the family pet.

If a pet division issue exists, a court may step in to award the pet to one spouse or the other. In deciding, California courts will likely look to the source of payment for the pet to determine if it is separate property or community property. If it is determined to be a community asset, the court may be mindful of and sensitive to the needs of a pet when making orders. For example, a court may look to the party who spends more time with the pet, the party responsible for taking the family pet to the vet, and who has the stronger bond with the pet.

A creative solution that couples may want to consider is a pet-sharing plan, which is similar to a child custody and visitation agreement. Couples facing divorce can formalize any agreements regarding pet visitation, travel arrangements, payment of vet bills and other issues related to the care and custody of the family pet. Implementing a pet-sharing plan may be “outside the box” but may be beneficial if it helps lessen the pain and loss couples may face during the divorce process.