California judges will soon consider a pet’s well being when awarding custody in a divorce

Courts will also be allowed to order a spouse to provide food, shelter and medical care for a pet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:56pm

As more divorcing couples fight over who gets to keep their pets, a new law will allow judges to treat those conflicts more like child custody battles.

In the past, courts have generally assigned pets to spouses based on who paid for or adopted them. Under a law signed on Thursday by California Governor Jerry Brown, courts would be allowed to make custody decisions based on who walks a dog, takes the cat to the vet or grooms a horse. Courts will also be authorised to order one spouse to provide food, shelter and medical care for a pet before a final ruling.

“There is nothing in statute that states a pet must be treated any differently than any other type of property we own,” said Democratic Assemblyman Bill Quirk, the bill’s author. “However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They become a part of our family, and their well being should be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”

Supporters, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, say the law will lead to fewer homeless animals. Some divorcing couples are forced to sell their pets to shelters when they cannot agree to a custody arrangement.

Tears for pets often easier than for humans

The Association of Family Law Specialists, however, said the measure would overwhelm the family courts system with extended debates about which spouse was a better caretaker. According to opponents, courts are already allowed to assign pet custody to either party.

California joins Alaska and Illinois, which have passed similar laws since 2017. The new law goes into effect on January 1.