A newly signed law – that goes into effect on January 1, 2019 – makes it possible for California family court judges to award custody of beloved animals during divorce proceedings. Until now, the courts decided pet custody as part of a couple’s property settlement agreement. This new statute seemingly gives pets higher status as true members of the family.

Under Assembly Bill 2274, judges will be able to award joint or sole legal ownership of a pet and can take into consideration the prior and future care of the animal. For example, if the parties argue about custody of their beloved Pomeranian or English Bulldog, the judge can take testimony about who primarily cared for the animal in the past, as well as who purchased the dog and who is best able to care for the animal going forward.

From temporary to permanent orders

Judges will also be able to assign temporary pet custody pending divorce proceedings. A temporary order is not definitive of the final permanent custody order of a furry friend.

Some of the things the court can consider include:

  • The animal’s preferred “parent”
  • Who has assumed primary responsibility for the animal in the past (who fed, watered and brushed the animal on a regular basis, and took the animal to necessary veterinarian appointments)
  • Amount of time each party can devote to the animal (if one party is, for example, a self-professed “workaholic,” while the other only works part-time, that may have an impact)
  • Financial ability to provide food, shelter and vet care for the animal

Of course, the parties can reach a decision through negotiations or mediation on who will keep a loving companion and a possible visitation schedule after a divorce is final. Collaboration and cooperation may lead to a more workable couple-specific outcome. This new law simply gives judges more leeway when making determinations after a contested hearing.