In a recent study, researchers asked participants who they would save if a runaway bus was hurtling out of control towards their dog or another human being, as reported by Psychology Today. The majority of participants chose to save their dog over a “foreign tourist” or a “hometown stranger” both by a wide margin. The participants also chose saving their dog over their “distant cousin,” “best friend,” “grandparent,” and even their “sibling.” We obviously place enormous emotional value in our pets, so why does the court system treat our pets as mere property?

During a divorce, pets are considered either marital or personal property. This means that if one of the spouses owned the pet before marriage, they will get the pet no matter what. If the pet was acquired during marriage, the pet is considered marital property, also called community property here in California. However, this is all about to change thanks to the recent signing of Assembly Bill 2274 by the Governor into law. Starting January 1st, 2019, the court can determine sole or joint custody of pet animals that are community property. If you are going through divorce and have a beloved dog, cat, or other pet and it is vital that your animal ends up with you, it is essential that you contact a San Jose divorce attorney.

What Has This Law Changed?

Under the old law, and currently existing law until the end of this year:

  • Pets are treated as property only;
  • Pets that were owned before the marriage are nonmarital property;
  • Pets that were acquired during the marriage are marital property;
  • Pets that were acquired during the marriage but were gifts specifically to one spouse are nonmarital party; and
  • In some cases, judges will try to determine who the primary caregiver for the pet is when the pet is marital property. However, no specific law has been in place, and certainly no law that is anything like a custody law or even guidelines.

Under the new law that will begin in 2019:

  • Pets that were owned before the marriage are nonmarital property;
  • Pets that were acquired during the marriage are marital property;
  • Judges can determine custody of marital property pets based on caregiving history of each spouse. A judge can give sole or joint custody, and order custody like they would for a child. For example, one spouse gets the dog on the weekends and the other spouse gets the dog on the weekdays, or each spouse gets the dog every other week; and
  • When the divorce is ongoing, a judge can place the marital property pet with one or the other spouses for care until the final custody decision is made.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you are going through a divorce or legal separation, we urge you to work with an experienced divorce attorney. Contact the dedicated San Jose family law attorney Gemma V. Reyes today to schedule a free consultation with a lawyer today. Call us for help at 408-292-6289.