A new law having to do with how pets are handled in a divorce went into effect in California on Jan. 1. Judges are now allowed to consider what's in the best interest of a pet and to approve shared custody plans for them if it's deemed appropriate. Prior to the law going into effect, domestic animals were seen as marital property that needed to be divided up just like a house, car or any assets when a couple divorced.
Before the law was passed, supporters argued that there were many cases in which California judges had told divorcing spouses that they could take a pet, sell it and split the profits down the middle between themselves. The fact that animals weren't given any more special consideration than a car or china, for example, horrified many.
By Gov. Jerry Brown signing the bill into law, it now means that judges will have to take into account who feeds, plays with, walks and handles the veterinary care for the family pet. The spouse who primarily handles those duties will ultimately be the one who the judge decides to award primary custody to.
Proponents of this bill note that the shift in perception of pets from property to something more akin to a human child is refreshing. They note that animals have preferences and that divorce can be just as traumatic for them as it is for your son or daughter.
California is the third state in the country to enact a law focused on doing what's in a pet's best interests during a divorce. Legislators in both Alaska and Illinois passed similar laws in 2017 and 2018 respectively. There is one problem with California's bill, though. It only states that judges "may" consider a pet's best interests. The other states' bills are written so that they're required to do so.
In California, the divorce process is referred to as a "dissolution of marriage". Riverside couples are better able to control how property division and custody arrangement decisions are made when they work cooperatively through them. If matters are so contentious that negotiation seems impossible, then you may find it refreshing to learn that the right divorce lawyer can help you reach a settlement in your case.