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California's pet custody law

The way pets are treated in divorce cases changed in California when Assembly Bill 2274 was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018. Family law judges in the Golden State may now make these decisions based on what is in the best interests of the animal. This is the same standard applied in child custody cases. Before AB 2274 amended the California Family Code, companion animals were considered marital assets like cars or real estate.

The issue of pet custody has been attracting attention in recent years. Pet owners often see their companion animals as members of the family, and it is not unknown for divorcing spouses to use this bond of affection to exert psychological pressure during property division negotiations. Under AB 2274, judges in California may award sole pet custody or shared custody and issue orders that require pets to be cared for properly while divorces or legal separations are being litigated.

Judges in states without pet custody laws have frequently applied the 'best interest" standard when making decisions about companion animals in divorce cases, and AB 2274 codified practices that were already widespread in California. The law is also an example of California's progressive approach in the area of animal rights. In 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranked California's animal welfare laws the third most comprehensive in the country.

Negotiations over property division can be contentious in California due to the state's strict community property laws. Experienced family law attorneys may suggest prenuptial or postnuptial agreements to couples who wish to avoid such disputes. If these agreements are essentially fair, negotiated in good faith and entered into freely, they may stipulate how assets will be divided in a divorce. Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements might also contain provisions dealing with spousal support and pet care.

Source: The Animal League Defense Fund, California's New 'Pet Custody" Law Differentiates Companion Animals from Other Types of Property, By Nicole Pallotta, Nov. 5, 2018

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