Divorce is often incredibly complex, with dozens of interconnected legal issues.  When finding a divorce attorney, it is important to look for someone who will consider your entire case, not just the divorce.  That means that if you have children who will be affected by the divorce, it is vital to work with an attorney who will consider the child custody and child support issues you face.  But what about pets?  If you have a pet, your attorney should be prepared to deal with the legal issues and difficult situations surrounding who gets custody of your household pets during a divorce.  The Ventura divorce lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain how California law treats pet custody in a divorce.

Does California Have Pet Custody Laws?

In your family, your pet may be like a member of the family.  Keeping contact with your pet may be incredibly important to at least one of the spouses, and both parties may have significant concerns about how California law deals with these situations.  First, it is important to understand that California law sees pets as property.  Unlike children, California law does not necessarily look to the pet’s best interests, and there are no legal systems in place for visitation or shared parenting plans like there are for child custody cases.

While this may seem somewhat rude to consider a pet the same as any other piece of property, it actually simplifies many of the legal issues surrounding who gets the pet in the divorce.  California is a “community property state.”  This means that everything you acquired during the life of the marriage is considered “community property,” and it is divided 50/50 when you get divorced.  There are no factors to look at to decide how much each spouse should get; the court just splits everything in half.

When property is divided in half upon divorce, each spouse often has the opportunity to argue for which specific assets they want to keep.  For instance, if there are important family heirlooms that the couple received during their marriage, they may be able to bargain to keep those during divorce negotiations.  The only thing the court cares about is dividing assets 50/50 based on monetary value.  Judges usually have no problem allowing the parties to work out who gets things with non-monetary value (e.g. sentimental value, artistic value, aesthetic value).

However, since there are no custody laws, this also means that one person will receive full ownership of the pet.  This leaves it up to their decisions whether the other spouse will be allowed to see the pet, borrow the pet occasionally, or have any access in the future.  Of course, like most things in marriage, terms can be negotiated and discussed between each spouse’s lawyer to help the parties achieve their goals.

How California Divorces Deal with Pets from Before the Marriage

If you are getting divorced, but you owned your pet before the marriage took place, you should keep your pet.  Any pets you brought to the marriage should be your pet after the marriage, and there is little that the court can do to take your dog, cat, fish, bird, or any other household pet away from you.

Property that you bring to the marriage is known as “individual” or “separate” property.  The person who brought this property to the marriage always maintains ownership of this property, and when the divorce is finalized, they walk away with full ownership and control of that property.  If the property increases in value, the spouse might be entitled to 50% of the increased value, but with a normal household pet, the value may not increase.  This could be more complicated in cases involving show dogs, horses, or other expensive animals.

This means that your spouse should not be able to take your pet away from you when you get divorced.  If the pet was purchased during the marriage, then both spouses have equal claim to the pet, but pets purchased by one spouse before getting married continue to belong to that spouse after divorce.

This can still create problems if you bonded with your spouse’s pet.  Just because you’re divorcing your spouse does not mean that you want to divorce their pet as well.  If you bonded with your spouse’s pet during the marriage, you may have no way of claiming ownership of the pet.  However, it is important to talk to a Santa Barbara divorce lawyer about what kinds of options you have.  In many cases, you could transform individual property, like a pet, into community property based on the other spouse granting you part ownership of the property or by agreeing that the property is joint property.  Talk to a lawyer about how you may be able to work out these kinds of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with respect to your pets.

Ventura, CA Divorce Attorney Offering Free Consultations

If you are seeking a divorce in California, consider contacting the Ventura family lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth for a free consultation on your case.  Our lawyers have combined decades of experience handling California divorce cases and understand the law behind complex legal questions like this.  For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555