Who Keeps a Couple’s Best Friend?
Pets are a beloved addition to one’s family, with all members quickly growing attached to the four-legged friends. Nearly as painful as divorce itself is deciding who will get to keep the companion and who has to say goodbye.
Luckily, gone are the days when couples were left to determine their pet custody arrangements on their own or face bizarre tests of the court whereby a judge would place a dog between a couple and see to whom it would run.
As of January 1, 2019, California courts have been able to treat pets differently than other community property. Under the order, couples can be awarded joint or sole custody of an animal. In addition, the court can delegate one spouse responsible for the pet while the final decision on the matter is being pondered.
What Factors Does a Court Look for When Deciding on Pet Custody?
Courts understand that our pets are just as beloved as other members of the family. As such, judges will carefully consider each spouse’s ability to properly care for a pet, as well as:
- Who adopted the pet
- Who is the primary caregiver (who feeds, walks, and plays with the pet)
- Who covers veterinary costs
- The potential health and safety of the animal in either environment
Just as with children, the court will aim to protect the pet’s best interest. They will typically award custody to the spouse who has been more involved in the pet’s care since their adoption.
Protecting Your Right to Pet Custody
Pet custody decisions are most complicated when they pertain to “community pets,” or those that were adopted as a family.
If you adopted a pet before your marriage, you could consider outlining ownership provisions in a prenuptial agreement. Once made legally binding, this document would then protect your place as your pet’s rightful owner.
If you hadn’t yet adopted your pet when you and your spouse tied the knot, you could still enter into a postnuptial agreement to formalize the future of your furry friend.
Those who have a service animal or emotional support animals will typically retain sole ownership of the pet as they are assigned to one individual to personally help them.
Samra Dhillon & Associates can help you fight to protect your future with your pet as you prepare for your divorce. Contact us today to get started: (916) 571-1550.