Assembly Bill 2274: California's New "Pet Custody" Law

According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, approximately 85 million families in the United States own some type of pet. California residents, in particular, take great pride in spoiling their animal companions. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Californian who doesn’t have thousands of pet pictures stored in their phone and posted across countless social media accounts. Dogs, cats, birds, spiders, lizards – no matter the species, these animals are more than just pets, they’re our important family members and companions.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how divorce negotiations can quickly turn sour the second pet ownership is on the line. Fortunately, Assembly Bill 2274 went into effect on January 1, 2019, effectively nixing the outdated notion that pets should be treated like inanimate property in divorce cases.

Assembly Bill 2274

In the past, judges and divorce attorneys have struggled to help divorcing spouses negotiate pet custody and visitation schedules. Hilariously, some judges have been known to place a pet between its two owners in order to arbitrarily gauge the animal’s personal preferences. However, this method doesn’t necessarily reflect the animal’s “best interests,” and really only works if the animals is a really clever dog.

Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2274 into law before leaving office. This bill updated California’s Family Code to allow judges the option of awarding sole or joint custody of a pet. Of course, there are exceptions; after all, the court will never separate a disabled individual from their service animal. But aside from a few exemptions, pets are generally being treated like children instead of property during a divorce.

A judge considers the following factors before awarding “custody”:

  • Who originally purchased the pet, and when?
  • Who can provide a safe environment for the pet?
  • Who feeds the pet?
  • Who takes the pet on walks?
  • Who has more time to play with the pet?
  • Who can afford the pets daily needs and vet expenses?

This new law is expected to greatly benefit both pets and divorcing pet owners. For instance, vindictive spouses will now find it difficult to use animals as bargaining chips during divorce negotiations, or, in a worst-case scenario, weaponize their ownership rights against their exes. Likewise, pets don’t have to suffer over being permanently separated from “their person.”

This bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Bill Quirk who issued the following statement: “There is nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings…The signing of AB 2274 makes it clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clear direction, courts will award custody based on what is best for the animal. I am proud that Governor Brown, as a fellow pet owner, agrees that we need to alter our view of pet safety and animal welfare.”

Divorcing Your Spouse? Concerned About Your Pet? Call Today.

If you have questions or concerns about AB 2247, contact the Temecula divorce attorneys at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich today. Our legal team has over 50 years of collective experience and a comprehensive understanding of fluctuating California divorce laws. During your appointment, we can address your anxieties, explain your legal options, and start developing a case strategy that aims to achieve your legal objectives. With our help, you can secure a “custody schedule” that reflects your pet’s best interests.

Call Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 to schedule a consultation.


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