Pets are People, Too – At Least in California!

In most states, pets are considered property in divorce cases.  Because of this, courts allocate pet custody the same way the decide who gets the boat, who gets the house, and who gets the coin collection.  Florida law requires property division be equitable, which is not the same as equal.  An equitable division of property could result in one person getting a larger share of the marital property than the other.

A New Way to Deal with Pets in Divorce in California

In California, the law recently changed, allowing for a new way to deal with pets in divorce.  Under the new law, courts have the power to consider what is in the best interests of the pet, rather than treating the pet like property.  In fact, courts are required to view pet ownership differently than boat ownership, or house ownership.  Courts may consider how the pet is cared for by the parties and has the discretion to create a shared custody agreement.  Not surprisingly, the law was sponsored by state Assembly member Bill Quirk, a dog owner.

In evaluating the care of the pet, courts in California can now consider:

  • Who walks the pet
  • Who feeds the pet
  • How much time each partner spends playing with the pet

Courts can then determine who the pet will live with after the divorce.

Not Everybody Agrees

There are some arguments against treating pets in a manner similar to the way divorce courts deal with determining child custody.  For example, some experts express concern this is just another situation which could lead to jamming court calendars with litigation.  Others are concerned this might open up the courts to testimony from animal behavior specialists, not unlike the use of child custody evaluators for minor children.

On the other hand, experts including the San Diego Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals support the change in the law.  They believe this law will help reduce the number of pets that become homeless after a divorce.

Could This Be a Trend?

Alaska and Illinois have both enacted similar statutes in the past two years.  Could this be a trend?  We’ll have to wait and see.  For now, pets in Florida remain “property” in the eyes of divorce courts.  As such, they are divided just the same way the rest of a couple’s property is divided – in an equitable manner.

Are You Considering a Divorce?

If you are considering a divorce, contact the law firm of Eric C. Cheshire, P.A.  Eric Cheshire has over 25 years of experience handling family law and divorce cases.  If you have a pet that you are concerned about, this can be part of a negotiated divorce settlement.  While courts are not compelled to consider pets as anything other than property in Florida, if you and your spouse are separating amicably, a discussion about “pet custody” could be had.  Mediation and collaborative divorce approaches both allow couples to be a bit more creative than in a traditional divorce.  Contact the office today to schedule an appointment with Eric Cheshire to discuss your situation.  We look forward to speaking with you.  Call (561) 677-8090 today.

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