Who Gets Custody of Pets in Divorce?

Your pets are part of your family. When that family becomes divided, pet custody is a very real – and often heart-wrenching – issue you must consider. If you and your former spouse are dealing with custody of beloved pets during a divorce in California, there are a few things you need to consider. Unlike children, there are no legal ways to assign custody or visitation agreements. Instead, the pet is marital property and the courts will divide it as such. Here’s what to know during a divorce case with pets in San Diego:

Property (and Pet) Division in California

California is a no-fault divorce state. This means you don’t need to prove your spouse’s fault for the divorce. It also means the family courts won’t consider fault when deciding things like spousal support, child custody, or who gets the pets. Instead, the courts will look at other factors of the marriage to make these decisions if the couple can’t decide on their own.

California is also a community property state. The courts see all marital property as “community property” and will divide it equally between both spouses – again, unless the couple can agree on a different arrangement. Although you might think of them as your children, pets are technically property in California. That makes the community law applicable to them in addition to properties, bank accounts, assets, and debts.

If you and your spouse can work together to come up with a suitable custody plan for your pets, the judge will most likely sign off on it and pass it into your official divorce settlement agreement. Hire lawyers and attend mediation for your best chance at coming to a compromise. Try to keep an open mind. Mediation is the best way to get the rights you want when it comes to pet ownership, without the say of a judge.

Who Will Get the Pet?

If the decision of pet custody does end up in a judge’s hands, the rules of communal property will come into play in California cases. This means the pet will go to the spouse who owned it prior to the marriage, if applicable. Technically, the pet will be that person’s property and not communal property. If you both purchased the pet together while married, a judge will consider several factors when deciding who will get pet custody, including:

  • Which spouse brought the pet into the marriage.
  • Which spouse took care of the pet the most during the marriage.
  • Whether children have a bond with the pet, and who will have primary child custody.
  • If either party has abused or mistreated the pet in the past.
  • Which spouse has the greatest emotional bond with the pet.
  • What is in the pet’s best interests.

You will have the chance to state your case as to why you should get custody of your pet during a divorce trial. The courts will not consider shared pet custody or visitation agreements. If you can show that you were the primary caretaker during the marriage, you have more space and time to give to the pet, you have the greater emotional bond with the pet, etc., the judge will award you custody of the animal. It is up to you as the primary caretaker to allow your former spouse visitation rights or not.

How to Improve Your Odds of Getting Pet Custody During a Divorce in San Diego

The pet custody question can stop a San Diego divorce case in its tracks. If you’re prepared, however, you can win your case and get what’s best for your pet. Arm yourself with a skilled divorce attorney for your best chance at securing custody of a beloved dog, cat, or other pet during a divorce. A lawyer can help you prioritize what’s important to you during a divorce and fight for pet custody through any means available.