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Who gets the dog in the divorce?

Prior to 2019, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law, pets were treated as simply property to be divided in a divorce. While the new law did not elevate your dog's or cat's status to that of a child in a divorce, it does give family law courts criteria to determine which spouse will be the better owner for the pet.

California now considers pets' "unique nature" in the decision-making process. Spouses can now petition the court to be awarded custody of Fido or Fluffy. So, how does the court determine who gets the beloved pet?

Family law judges can ask probing questions like who fed and walked the pup during the marriage and who was responsible for getting it to the vet for annual shots. If there are minor children in the family, the judge might decide to let the pet live with the parent who has primary custody of the kids.

Pets are still considered to be part of the property as far as the legal codes go. These issues are not addressed in the family code section. Still, they are classified as an unusual provision. After all, California being a community property state, it is impossible to award each spouse 50% of the dog or cat.

If you are planning to divorce and are squabbling over the custody of your family pet, this matter needs to be amicably settled between you or it could wind up being litigated. By working closely with your family law attorney, you can determine the best approach to getting what you want from the divorce settlement — including the family dog.

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