A pet animal, for many people, is considered to be far more than property and is a member of the family.California law now provides consideration of a companion pets care and well-being.

Pets As Property

California law considers an animal pet personal property. Rules state that, as personal property, family pets who have been purchased during a marriage will be constituted as community property. But in certain scenarios it can be qualified as an individual’s personal property. A pet is considered as separate property if it was bought before a marriage or after the couple separates. It could also be classified as separate property if the pet was gifted or inherited.

Courts resolve both spouses equal ownership interest like any other property. The court has the authority to order the sale of a pet and split the sale between both parties if the parties will not share ownership of the pet.

Pet Custody Under California Family Code § 2605

Effective January 1, 2019, Section 2605 was added to the California Family Code, which focused on the well being and care of the family pet while divorce is pending and the courts have decided the new ownership of the pet.

Under Section 2605 “care” is defined as “the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty…and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.”

Significantly, the new law includes that “the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.”

Just like child custody, the courts can order the parties to share custody and arrange alternating periods.

Such an arrangement was previously established only through stipulation according to the terms of a marital settlement agreement. However, parties may request arrangements and courts will consider the pets best interest. Alaska and Illinois are the first two states followed by California to pass a law that is in the best interest and well-being of pets in family court.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who introduced the law as AB 2274, stated that “There is nothing in the 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 more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”