When some couples get divorced the first question that they are asked is “who gets custody of the kids?” Today, it seems as though couples are waiting longer to have children. In many cases, couples get divorced before they even have kids. This makes the question of custody a moot point. However, an increasing number of married couples are diving into pet adoption. Pets allow young couples a bit of freedom and flexibility to enjoy their new marriage without the stress of a child. When these couples get divorced, the question becomes “who gets custody of the dog?”

If you have pets, they are certainly an important part of your life. For many people, pets are their children. When you get divorced you may be overwhelmed by the idea that you could lose custody of your pet. In Los Angeles, the custody of pets can be a complicated part of a divorce.

Pets Considered Personal Property in Los Angeles

Under the current law, pets are considered personal property in Los Angeles. They are not provided with the same legal protections as children. This means that your pet will be assigned a classification for the purposes of your divorce. If you had your pet before you got married, your pet would be classified as your separate property. If you and your spouse adopted your pet after you got married, your pet would be classified as community property.

This is important. When you get divorced in Los Angeles you are required to divide your marital property. You are generally entitled to keep any separate property that is yours. This means that if your pet was yours before you got married, you would be able to keep your pet after your divorce.

Community property, however, is supposed to be split evenly between spouses. Spouses who get divorced in Los Angeles are entitled to 50% of all community property. How is community property divided in a divorce? There are a few possible ways to divide/allocate community property in a Los Angeles divorce:

  1. Split property in half (e.g., you get half of the furniture, your spouse gets the other half);
  2. Sell property and split proceeds (e.g., sell the house, split the amount you are paid); or
  3. Negotiate how items are allocated (e.g., you get the house, your spouse gets the car).

Which type of division would apply if a pet is considered to be community property? The most likely resolution will be that one spouse will get the pet in exchange for giving up something else of value. This may require putting a financial value on your pet.

Courts Starting to Take Pet Custody Battles Seriously

Pets are legally considered to be property. However, pets are gaining some legal protections. Specifically, pets are now protected under California law in against acts of domestic violence. Similarly, Los Angeles family court judges have begun to consider the pleas of pet-parents in divorce disputes.

A judge may decide that the pet would be better off with one spouse rather than another. If a case has proceeded to court, judges have discretion to determine how property is divided in a divorce. Your arguments about why you should be awarded “custody” of your pet could be persuasive. You could present evidence to support the argument that your pet is better off with you. As pets gain more legal protections, judges will probably be more likely to treat pets as they treat children.

Evidence that could help to persuade a judge to award you “custody” of your pet include:

  1. Proof that you were the pet’s primary caretaker;
  2. Veterinary records showing that you cared about the pet’s well-being;
  3. Photographs of you and your pet;
  4. Helpful witness testimony about you and your pet;
  5. Harmful witness testimony about your spouse and your pet.

Avoid Custody Battles Over Your Pet By Using a Prenuptial Agreement

Prenuptial agreements are a great tool for engaged couples. Prenups can be used to direct how any (or all) property will be divided in a divorce. You can use a prenup to talk about specific property. If you think that you and your spouse may disagree about who gets custody of your pet, you can address it in a prenuptial agreement. This will take any mystery out of the situation. A prenuptial agreement is a binding contract. The terms included in the prenup will generally be upheld.

If you are already married, you can execute what is known as a postnuptial agreement. A postnup is basically a prenuptial agreement that is made after you are already married. You can use it to direct how property will be divided if you get a divorce.

Work With an Experienced Los Angeles Divorce Attorney

Are you considering a divorce? Are you concerned about who will wind up with custody of your family pet? If so, do not hesitate to contact our experienced family law attorneys. We understand that pets are family and will fight to help you get custody. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We will review your case, explain how we can help, and answer any questions you have.