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Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Our bond with animals can run very deep to the point of kinship, and it is felt by the humans as well as the animals involved. Dogs tend to think of the family as their own special pack, just like a pack of dogs. Cats often feel the same, too. Our furry family members seem to know when we are down, they make us laugh, and sometimes they might even help us break the ice in certain social situations. They trust us to care for them, and in return, they offer their special form of unique companionship. These relationships can be meaningful to us, but a divorce begs the question of how courts resolve a pet ownership dispute and decide pet custody.
You may be surprised to know this, but “dog divorce anxiety” is a real thing. During or after a divorce, you may notice your dog start to excessively lick or bite himself, or he may start showing signs of depression just like a person. He may begin sleeping more than usual, eating less, or crying. He might even lose interest in playing or taking daily walks, or he might act out in some other way (more accidents, destructiveness, etc). Indeed, divorce is hard for every being involved. We all know that divorce is particularly difficult for the humans, but it is hard on our pets, too.
Typically, custody battles have referred solely to the couple’s children. Occasionally, it refers to disabled relatives. Unfortunately, pets are basically rolled in with all of the inanimate property and treated as such when deciding who gets what. This means that instead of considering what is best for the little creature, even if one person was the one that took care of the animal, the other party gets to keep the animal, even if they didn’t really give it much attention. If someone can prove financially that they own the animal (similarly to how they would prove that they own a car or computer), they get the pet. Unfortunately, if the divorce is particularly difficult, an angry or spiteful ex may just keep the pet so the other person can’t have it, even if they don’t feel much of a bond with the animal. This hurts not just the other person who is denied the animal, but also the creature that is being used as a pawn.
Shared custody is always an option if the divorce is amicable, but this would not be enforceable in a court of law. It would have to be a personal or nondisclosure agreement that the splitting couple determines outside of trial. Unfortunately, if the individuals cannot bear to even share custody because both want to keep the pet but never see each other again, there are no legal options for the person who is denied the pet after the court determines the rightful owner. Until now, that is. One state has upped the ante for pet custody.
In September 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to allow judges to consider additional matters regarding the well-being of the animal that is caught in the middle of the divorce. Now, the courts will be able to more thoughtfully assign either joint or sole ownership of the pet. This law was introduced by representative Bill Quirk (D), a legislator from Hayward and appreciated by the dog-loving governor, who has his beloved pet on his website. This law seems to be making sense to a lot of people. Hopefully, other states will come to see the value in a law like this for their own constituents and follow suit.
For assistance with your divorce and pet custody issues, reach out to a qualified and caring attorney near you today.
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