Pets & Divorce: Who Keeps the Pup?

In California, there is a new law granting judges the authority to settle disagreements over who keeps the family pet(s) after a divorce. Perhaps not so surprising: these laws are set up to mirror the way courts handle child custody disputes.

Before this new law, California ran its pet-custody system similar to the way Nevada currently runs its system – pets are considered as the family’s property, rather than as sentient members of the family itself. Working with an experienced Las Vegas family law attorney is the best way to ensure your pet’s future is addressed in your divorce.

Pets In Divorce

What Does That Mean Regarding Divorce?

Well, in short, fuzzy little Scruffy was once simply added to the list of other shared belongings such the flat-screen tv and the living room couch. Divorcing spouses (with the aid of their divorce attorneys) then decided who took what property during the break-up, keeping in mind that, in Nevada, there is a 50/50 rule: each spouse is entitled to 50 percent of the communal property, regardless of who purchased it during the marriage.

So how do the new changes affect California pets? Under the new bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, pets will still be considered community property. However, now a judge can decide who keeps the pets by weighing in more personal factors such as who feeds them, who takes care of them, who protects them, who has the stronger emotional bond to them, etc. The judge may also help couples determine a shared-custody plan, similar to that of the plans assigned for the shared custody of children.

If this all sounds ridiculous to you, you probably don’t have a dog in your life. Or, perhaps you only view your pet as… well, your pet. But more and more families have expressed that they think of their furry companions as essential members of their family, rather than mere ‘pets,’ so the laws in California are being adjusted to accommodate those sentiments.

What Factors Come Into Play Regarding Pet Custody in a Divorce?

The Nevada courts have not yet changed their laws the way California is changing theirs. However, judges are still human beings, and they may take into consideration the following during a divorce trial:

  • Specific family member’s bonds to the animal (including the kids’ bond)
  • If one/both of the spouses has a history of domestic violence
  • Papers that show one spouse is the rightful, registered owner (especially if the papers are from before the couple was married; then the case is simpler)
  • Vet receipts or other documentation showing who the individual who tended to the pet’s needs for the majority of the time was
  • Pictures of either spouse with their dog/cat/other pet… especially pictures from BEFORE the marriage, if possible
  • Evidence that the spouse will be able to provide a good home for the pet after the divorce (near a yard or park, etc.)
  • Evidence that one’s work schedule allows adequate time to care for the pet

Whether in California or Nevada, any judge with half a heart will consider what’s in the best interest of the animal. The major difference between California and Nevada now is that a California judge is now legally assigned that duty.


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