What happens to pets in a North County San Diego divorce? While child custody and parenting time are often the most challenging aspects of a North County San Diego divorce, the question of “who gets the family pet” may be just as heated in some cases. How are pets handled in a California divorce? In many homes the issue is resolved by the relationships with the pets themselves. “The cat is much closer to my husband,” or “Our dog is really more attached to my wife.” In other cases, one of the parties had the pet before the marriage.
If you purchased a pet prior to your marriage it is important to find the paperwork associated with that purchase. You will also want to check on who is listed on the pet’s AKC registration, as well as the records at your veterinarian. Make sure you have copies of all vaccination and important records relating to your beloved furry friend.
But what happens to pets in a North County San Diego divorce when the pet was brought into the family during the marriage and the parties both want custody? Technically, California law considers pets to be “property.” Property in a divorce is to be divided as equally as possible. Remember the famous story of the old and wise king who ordered that the baby be cut in half when two women both claimed to be its mother? It is not unusual for a California judge to order that the pet be put up for adoption if both parties are arguing over it. “If you can’t work something out between the two of you, neither can have it.”
Fortunately, a recent bill passed and signed into law by former Governor Brown, pets are still considered to be “community property” but the judge will have much more discretion to consider alternative solutions for your pets which may be more like a “shared parenting plan.” How much time will each party spend with the pet and on what schedule? Who is responsible for the costs of caring for the pet and any veterinary expenses or will they be shared?
Those of us who love and cherish the animals that accompany us in life are appalled by the idea of considering a pet as our “property.” It is the deep love you have for your pet(s) that probably has you reading this post. Our pets love us, and they can be emotionally impacted by the events of the divorce as well. Our pets form a strong bond with each of us, and they would be terribly upset if they never got to see your former spouse again, and vice versa.
The model of a “parenting plan” (how we divide time with the children between parents or “child custody”, as well as the costs associated with raising a child) can serve as a great model for pet custody as well. This is especially true when you have children. The natural rhythms of your family life can be applied to custody of the pets. Pets can change houses along with children, or there can be a separate arrangement based upon longer time frames. This can and should be negotiated as part of your divorce.
Here in California, we strongly believe (and our laws dictate) that it is in the best interest of the child to spend roughly equal quality time with each parent (in the absence of extreme circumstances such as abuse or addiction). The same standard may now be applied to our pets.