How a New California Law is Affecting Pet Custody Battles



Pet owners have long known that pets are part of the family. Now, though, it looks like state laws are finally catching up.


On Jan. 1, a new California law (AB 2274) went into effect that allows judges to consider “the care of the pet animal” when making decisions in divorce or legal separation cases.


Previously, California courts treated pets just like any other physical property, which is divided equally between parties when a marriage breaks up. Typically, ownership was decided based on which party purchased the pet or paid its adoption fee. While judges were able to utilize discretion in authorizing visitation or determining what is in an animal’s best interest, the law offered no official guidance.


“There is nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings,” said assembly member Bill Quirk, sponsor of AB 2274, in a statement about the need for amendments to the state’s Family Code.


Now, the state recognizes that companion animals are different than other types of property acquired during marriage. Thanks to AB2274, judges today can design shared custody agreements, similar to how the courts handle custody for human children.


Two other states, Alaska and Illinois, have passed similar legislation directing courts in how to handle cases regarding the care of pets in marital dissolution proceedings.


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