Custody for Family Pets in a Divorce or Legal Separation


For many families, pets are family members present in holiday cards and cared for as faithful companions.  On the other hand, California Family Law Courts have historically viewed pets as personal property and assigned ownership like any other item during a divorce or separation. If a pet was acquired during the marriage, the pet was generally characterized as community property. In June of 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that while animals can be legally considered property, they are still “sentient beings capable of experience pain, stress, and fear.”


Here in California, animals are still considered property, but with some exceptions. Family Code section 2605 allows Judges to “assign sole or joint ownership” of a “community property” pet, by taking into consideration the care for the pet.  Pets can also be placed in the temporary care of one of the parties in a divorce or separation before the final home of the pet is determined. And a party requesting a domestic violence restraining order can request that pet(s) be included as protected under a temporary or permanent domestic violence restraining order.

How do Courts Determine Custody of the Family Pet?

In determining possession and control of the pet, the Court may consider whether a spouse knows the brand of pet food the animal eats, the name of the pet’s veterinarian, the pet’s medical needs, etc. Some might argue this new law raises the status of pets to something just below a human child. However, advocates argue it raises the status of pets to where they belong—family members. Undoubtedly, these new changes will add another dimension to divorce in California.


It is important to note that parties do not have to go to Court to determine the possession and control of the family pet(s). Parties can create their own agreement and arrangements, including a schedule of when either party will have the pet(s) and other responsibilities. When crafting an agreement, parties should prioritize the animal’s best interests, the type of pet they have (i.e. dog, cat, etc.), and can seek advice from their veterinarian to help. If parties can reach an agreement, they can formalize this agreement and submit it to the Court.


If you’re considering divorce and need help creating a pet custody agreement or have other family law questions, contact The Reape-Rickett Law Firm today at 888-851-1611 or contact us HERE.

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