Starting next year, California courts will no longer treat domestic pets solely as property in a divorce. Sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, Assembly Bill 2274 will determine the continuity of a pet's care in California couples' divorce proceedings.
The new bill establishes that a spouse may petition the California family law courts for either joint or sole ownership of the family pet. Said ownership will be based on previous care of the animal, including providing:
- Protected, safe shelter
- Vet care
- Preventing acts of cruelty and harm
In addition to the above, the new law enables a divorcing spouse to petition the court to grant them the right to care for the animal until the divorce is finalized.
Before Assemblyman Quirk introduced his bill, pets were just another piece of the marital spoils to be divided between the divorcing parties in a community property state like California
The new law directs the courts to consider the pet's well-being as part of the decision-making process.
Custody and visitation rights for pets?
While pets do not enjoy the same status as human children in a divorce, the new statute does give them more standing. One or both spouses may seek "custody" of the pet, with the noncustodial spouse receiving visitation rights similar to those governing minor children.
The new statute has the support of both the San Diego Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Both groups hope the new law will reduce the number of homeless animals.
The bill has its detractors. The Association of Certified Family Law Specialists (ACFLS) voiced its disapproval, arguing the new law will increase the backlog of cases in the California family law courts by further delaying divorce proceedings with this additional matter to settle.
The group's legal position reads:
"By adding in sole or joint ownership of pet animals as a determination courts can make in divorce proceedings, the already backlogged family court proceedings may become even more delayed as judges consider the myriad factors that come into play when making decisions about community property division and child custody."
The law will take effect in California divorce proceedings on Jan. 1, 2019.
If this is an issue that could potentially affect the outcome of your divorce, it's best to learn more about the law's repercussions on your divorce case.