Divorce considerations for pet owners in California
For many people, the family pet is a valuable member of the household. When a divorce happens, the fate of the pet is often an extremely important consideration. While pets are considered property in many states, subject to laws governing asset division, some states — including California — have enacted laws that allow judges to take into consideration the best interests of the pet.
As part of these considerations, the judge may look at who takes the animal to the vet, feeds it and walks it. Often families will be able to make this decision without asking a judge to intervene. For example, one divorcing couple ultimately decided that to help minimize the number of changes in their children’s life, the dog would follow the same parenting schedule as the children.
Some surveys indicate that the number of disputes regarding pet custody have increased significantly over the last decade, with the majority of cases involving a dog. Some professionals attribute this increase to declines in home ownership and the birth rate; often, people are devoting the energy and love that would have gone into children and a home into their pets. In addition to laws that allow judges to consider well-being, couples also have the option of creating a legal agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement, that will determine what will happen to a pet in the event of a divorce.
Many people in California would argue that their family pet is an integral part of their family. Their fate in a divorce could easily be the pretense for conflict in a situation that is already emotionally difficult. Fortunately, there are options that can help reduce this conflict.