California pet owners now can file for custody in divorce

In many families in California, there are two kinds of "kids": the two-legged kind and the four-legged kind.

When it comes to the two-legged ones, parenting plans are set, custody is ordered by a judge and parents arrange pick ups and drops offs of their children.

But in California, a law took effect on Jan. 1 that treats the four-legged ones in much the same way.

After hearing about disputed pet custody cases in divorce, California lawmakers adopted a bill that outlines just what judges consider when it comes to custody of a family pet. It allows judges to ask things such as "Who takes the dog to the vet?" when considering whether someone in a divorce case should have sole or joint custody.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, himself an owner of two dogs, signed the bill before his term expired at the end of 2018.

Alaska and Illinois have similar laws that took effect in 2017. Other states are considering such a law. Most states largely consider pets to be property rather than a member of the family.

So just what else can California judges consider when deciding pet custody?

  • Who brought the pet into the family?
  • Who is the primary person to feed, walk and buy food or toys for the animal?
  • Who devotes the most time to the pet?
  • Have there been any allegations of pet abuse?

This is a new avenue of California divorce law, but for many pet owners – rather pet "parents" – it undoubtedly is a welcome change. It is expected that many pet owners who are divorcing will take advantage of the law to file for custody.

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