Splitting the Puppy No More: California's New Pet Custody Law

According to the ancient tale about the Judgment of King Solomon, the wise Israeli king was tasked with resolving a dispute between two women claiming to be the mother of an infant child. The king proposed a grim solution: to cut the baby in half with a sword.

One of the women did not protest the king’s ruling, satisfied knowing that no one could have the baby if she could not. But, the other woman begged the king not to kill the child, offering to surrender him to her adversary. From this response, King Solomon concluded that a true mother would give up her child if it meant sparing his life.

This story isn’t too far from the actual dynamics of a divorce case. Sometimes divorcing spouses can get so caught up in fighting the opposing party that they lose sight of what’s important. California’s child custody laws were designed to help prevent a minor child’s welfare from becoming a casualty in a raging war between estranged spouses.

But until recently, California did not offer comparable legal protections for those other tiny members of a family: the household pet. The California legislature passed a law that went into effect on New Year’s day, adding a section to the state’s family code allowing courts to take a pet animal’s well being into consideration when dividing community property.

California Law for Pet Animals in Divorces Before 2019

Community property principles govern property disputes in California divorce cases. Under California community property law, both spouses in a divorce case have an equal interest in all the property they acquired during their marriage and which does not constitute the separate property of one spouse.

California law classified pet animals as personal property capable of inclusion into the marriage’s community estate. As a result, pet animals were relegated to just another line item on the property declaration sheet over which the parties could wage war. Courts attempted to resolve property disputes over family pets by taking a page out of the child custody book on parental time-sharing arrangements and ordered the parties to split their time with the pet. In extreme cases, a court might order the sale of a pet, subsequently directing the parties to split the proceeds between themselves.

California Family Code Section 2605

Effective January 1, 2019, California Family Code, Section 2605 authorized judges to order a party to care for a pet animal during divorce proceedings. The new law also allows the parties to make a request “to assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal, taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.” Under Section 2605, “care” is defined as “the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter” including the prevention of animal cruelty and abuse.

The California State Assembly voted in favor of adding Section 2605 to the Family Code after Assemblymember Bill Quirk introduced it to the legislature as Assembly Bill (AB) 2274, with the following statement:

“When this bill becomes law, courts will view pet ownership differently, and pets will legally be more than just property. Courts should award custody on what is best for the animal. Although my little Luna has a happy home, I am sure she is relieved to know I am working on this measure to help her furry friends that may be in homes with different circumstances. It is clear we need to alter our view of pet safety and animal welfare.”

Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich: Trusted Names in Legal Advocacy

At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich we take special care in staying up-to-date on legal developments in California family law that may impact your rights and options in a divorce proceeding. We take pride in delivering quality legal advice and advocacy to the residents and families of Southern California to help ensure their best interests are preserved.

To schedule a free consultation about your case, call Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 or visit us online and complete the request form.

Request Your Consultation Today

Premier Legal Services for Criminal & Family Law Matters
  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.