I’ve written before about the custody of pets in a divorce. Historically, in a divorce, the law has treated pets as property no different than how a toaster or a car is treated. That concept is slowly changing.

As any pet lover would say, pets are a part of the family. For some, pets are surrogate children. For pets to be treated as property is abhorrent to them.

As of January 1, 2019, in California, a new law is in effect regarding pets in a divorce. Section 2605 of the code reads as follows:

(a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.
(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.


Thus, the court can grant a joint custody regime if it wants. Previously, it really couldn’t. California is a community property state, meaning that all marital property is jointly owned and presumed to be on a 50/50 basis.

Please note that NJ has no such law and that pets here are still considered property. The best interests of the pet are not considered by the court. However, parties can consider that in mediation — and often do.

Contact me to learn more about mediation and pets in divorcing.