Can I fight for custody of the family pet in my divorce?

To may pet owners, their dog or cat is a beloved member of the family. But when divorce looms on the horizon, they are startled to realize that Fideaux or Puffy is considered just another piece of property not subject to custodial agreements.

However, some California courts are taking a more enlightened view of the role pets play in their owners' lives. With that in mind, learn how you may be able to reach accord regarding the future of your beloved fur babies.

You may have more wiggle room here if the pet was not clearly a gift to or purchase by one spouse. For instance, if a couple purchased or selected a dog together and both have shared in its care and upkeep.

It is possible that the judge could request proof in the form of documents or witness testimony regarding which party was responsible for getting the animal its annual shots and routine veterinary care. He or she could examine records from obedience classes or the groomer's.

If the animal has significant health problems, judges might even take into consideration which of the two spouses is best able to afford the veterinary care that the pet will need, both now and in the future.

Sometimes family pets may be used as pawns to achieve other aims in a divorce. The judge will usually be able to recognize this, e.g., the spouse who works 60 hours a week but insists that he or she has quality time to spend with the animal.

When their are children involved who have their own close relationships with their pet, judges may decide to grant ownership of the pet to the parent who will have custody of the children the most. In shared custody cases where the kids switch back and forth from mom's to dad's house, they could even order that the pet goes with the kids.

Of course, the above arrangement will work much better with some pets than others. Cats, for instance, could become far too stressed to accept a shared custody arrangement. They could develop unwanted behaviors like spraying or escape during an attempted transit.

If maintaining ownership of your pet in divorce is important to you, make sure that your clarify this intention to your California family law attorney.

Source:, "The New Rules About Who Gets Your Family Pet in a Divorce," accessed Nov. 17, 2017

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