Pets are Treated More like Children in a California Divorce


To many people, pets are not just property- they’re family! They have been with us through our highs, our lows, and often times are the emotional product of two loving parents. Usually when divorcing couples look at the property they have to divide, they think about couches and cars. When they find out that their pets are considered property too, which only one party will walk away with, this can often be cause for alarm! Until recently, California courts wouldn’t make decisions about who gets “custody” of a pet. They would only enforce an agreement between the parties as a court order.

The system explained

As of 2019, this all changed when legislation was passed in California explicitly allowing Judges to make orders for the care of a family pet upon request of one party in a divorce or legal separation. Now, the Judge can make orders about the care of a pet before the divorce is final, and then also after the divorce is final, just like in child custody cases. Again, this will only happen if one party asks for the Judge to do so. If the parties come to their own agreement on this, the Judge will simply make the agreement an enforceable order. Maybe in some cases, it won’t come up at all. Here is the relevant language of California Family Code Section 2605:

  • (a) 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.
  • (b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.


But how does this work in practice? Can there be a visitation schedule? Can the parties be ordered to share expenses? Since this is a new law, there hasn’t been much time for precedent to be set, but courts will consider a special set of factors in deciding how to assign custody. They might consider things like: who walked the pet more, who took it to vet appointments, who played with the pet or took it to the park. Additionally, the law’s inclusion of the word “care” for the pet means that parties could be ordered to share the finances involved in that care. There are vet bills, food, vaccines, etc. For pet parents serious about providing great care for their pets, sharing in the expense is part of the deal.

SupportPay Can Help

SupportPay is a perfect technology solution to help pet parents organize the shared expenses associated with their pet, or any communication related to caring for the pet. As discussed, you don’t need a court order to agree to share expenses. People can go to mediation to discuss the logistics of physical and financial care, and SupportPay can be a great addition to the resolution, whether that is reached in or out of court.

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