California's New Pet Custody Law

Beginning on January 1, 2019, a new family law code will go into effect changing the way courts look at family pets.

Currently, California courts recognize pets as property, and when a couple divorces, each spouse is entitled to half the value of the animal.

However, in September of 2018, California’s governor signed into law AB 2274 requiring a court, upon request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, to assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

The new law is Family Code Section 2605. It states:

The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.

(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.

The author of the new law is Democratic assemblyman Bill Quirk. In an interview with NBC, Quirk stated, "To treat a pet as property made no sense to me. We've actually had judges who said you can sell the dog and split the proceeds."

Now that won’t be necessary. Again, at the request of a party to a dissolution of marriage or separation proceedings, a judge will take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with.

Not surprisingly, California, as a progressive state, is the first state in the country to have such a law.

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