The New Year has ushered in a law that reforms how judges can consider disputes over pets in divorce cases in California. Prior to Jan. 1, courts treated pets as physical property, but animal advocates viewed that legal definition as inadequate for living creatures with feelings. The new law gives judges the ability to think about an animal's best interests.
The state assembly member who sponsored the bill said that he wanted to prevent decisions like a judge telling people to sell their dog and divide the proceeds to settle a divorce. The new law creates options that grant judges an expanded view of pet rights. It clearly states that pet ownership should not be considered the same as owning furniture or vehicles. Judges may now base decisions about who gets the pet in a divorce on who provided the most care, such as feeding, walking and playing. Shared custody arrangements are now possible too.
The law applies to pets in general and not just dogs. Although it defines pet as "any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet," dogs account for the majority of pet disputes during a divorce. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2014 determined that 88 percent of pet custody battles involved dogs.
A person will likely face many emotional decisions and challenges when negotiating the terms of a divorce. The support of an attorney could help a person understand rights to property or child custody laws. When disputes happen, an attorney might suggest compromises or prepare arguments that could advance the person's position in court.