Divorce is tough on everyone involved – including family pets. To many, pets are like children. However, pets do not get the same treatment as kids in a divorce.

Rather, pets are typically considered to be personal property in the eyes of the law. As a result, figuring out who gets the pets after a divorce is an issue that must be hashed out in property division discussions. In some cases, spouses upset by the divorce may even try to fight for the pets out of spite, rather than love. This doesn’t ensure that pets will end up in the best home or live with the spouse who will care for them properly.

A new California law changes things. While pets will still be considered property, a judge will have the final say in where a pet will live after a divorce. In fact, the analysis a judge will use is very similar to that used in child custody determinations. Pets are treated more like family and less like property under the new law. In this article, Los Angeles divorce lawyer Steven Fernandez explains the new California pet custody laws so that you can protect yourself in the event of a divorce.

Determining Pet Custody Under the Current Law

Under current California divorce laws, pets are treated as property. In fact, pets are treated no differently than household items or personal goods. Absent a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise, spouses are each entitled to one-half of all community property. If the pet was adopted or obtained after the spouses were married, each spouse has ownership rights.

Spouses are always encouraged to figure out to divide community property and marital assets on their own during a divorce. However, when it comes to property that is very personal or hard to value, this can be difficult. Courts can step in to help.

Pets are a unique kind of property under the law. In theory, each spouse is entitled to one-half of the pet. How does a court currently go about dividing a pet between spouses? It really depends on the case. If a couple has more than one pet, the judge may simply say Spouse A gets the dog and Spouse B gets the cat. If the couple only has a dog, the judge may order the spouses to share “custody” of the dog. Spouse A gets the dog for a month, then Spouse B gets the dog for a month. Under the current law, judges don’t really take into account what is best for the spouses or the animals involved. It’s a matter of property division.

Pet Custody Beginning January 2019

The new California law concerning pets in a divorce will go into effect on January 1, 2019. The new law will still treat pets as community property. Spouses will still be encouraged to figure out an amicable and mutually-agreeable way to divide ownership rights. When spouses can’t agree, courts will step in. Under the new law, judges will have the authority to consider subjective factors and find a solution that serves the best interests of the spouses and pets.

Factors Used to Determine Pet Custody

What kind of factors will judges use when determining who gets the pet(s) after a divorce? Judges will ask questions that help to determine the best outcome. These may include:

  • Who adopted the pet?
  • Who purchases food, toys, and other things for the pet?
  • Who feeds the pet?
  • Who walks the pet?
  • Who takes the pet to the vet?
  • Who protects the pet?
  • Who spends the most time with the pet?
  • Have there been allegations of domestic abuse or abuse of the pet?

The answers to these questions should help to reveal which spouse is best suited to take care of the pet(s) after the divorce. Judges will allocate ownership rights of the pet to that spouse.


Are you thinking about getting a divorce? Do you have questions about how your pets may be affected? Contact our Los Angeles family law attorneys to schedule a free consultation.