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Discussing the matter of pets in a divorce

On Behalf of | May 6, 2024 | Property Division

You, like millions of other Americans, consider your pet a part of the family. Your pet may be seen in family pictures, have a spot on the couch just for it and may even join the family wherever you go. Your pet may even get the same level of care as a child would. In a divorce, one of the biggest issues is determining who will get the pet in the proceeding.

You may realize during your divorce that deciding who gets to keep your pet is a large topic of frustration. You may want to keep your pet because you’ve had it so long and you have a strong bond with it, but so may your spouse. California had once decided on pet ownership through the asset distribution process because pets were considered property.

Today, the state takes a different approach to help ensure a pet’s best interests are kept in mind. Here is what you should know:

How to determine ownership of a pet

Ownership of a pet after a divorce is now similar to child custody. A spouse may take on sole ownership or joint ownership may be shared between spouses. A few factors are considered to decide what option is best, including:

  • Who primarily cared for the pet
  • Who provided the pet with food and shelter
  • Who has a stronger bond with a pet
  • Who paid for vet bills

However, this typically only applies if a pet was acquired during a marriage. If a pet is not considered communal property because it was obtained before marriage, the pet may go to the person who originally owned it.

To help ensure you keep your dog, cat, fish, lizard or bird, you may want to consider reaching out for legal guidance to learn about your options.