On September 27, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2274, a new law that allowed California courts to take into consideration “the best interest of the pet animal” when determining which spouse should be granted custody of the family pet. The California Legislature is finally catching up with the fact that their constituents see pets as part of the family rather than just an asset of the community.
Previously, pets were treated as personal property that could be valued and divided. Their “division” was previously governed by Civil Code Section 655 which states: “There may be ownership of all inanimate things which are capable of appropriation or of manual delivery; of all domestic animals; of all obligations; of such products of labor or skill as the composition of an author, the good-will of a business, trade-marks and signs, and of rights created or granted by statute.”
Pursuant to the Penal Code Section 491, dogs were classified as personal property and their value was to be ascertained in the same manner as other inanimate property. This left the parties to decide the monetary value of their household pet which could be divided as if it were a couch, tool set, or engagement ring. Before AB 2274, a Judge had the power to order the pet sold and the sale proceeds split between the parties. Now, California has passed AB2274, a law that solidifies the idea that your fur baby is different than other property acquired during the marriage.
Specifically, AB 2274 reads, “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.” It also gives the Courts the power to assign sole or joint ownership of a pet. Yes, it is similar to the process of determining which parent will have custody of a child. This allows the pet (who is characterized as community property) to have meaningful time with both parties after the divorce or separation.
Navigating through the family law court system can be confusing, and a battle for your pup can make things even more complicated. For example, some factors the courts considers when awarding custody of a pet includes whether the animal meets the definition of a “pet animal” per the statute, who acquired the pet first, who fed the pet, who walked the pet, and how long the pet has been in one party's exclusive care. These are just a few of the factors and the determination can become even more complicated if one party alleges domestic abuse of the pet. Luckily, the Moreno Family Law firm is here to help you and guide you through these difficult legal hurtles to obtain joint or sole custody of your beloved animal.
Please call us today to set up a consultation so that we can represent you and your pet in court and ensure the protection of your four legged family.