Most individuals treat their pets as part of the family. During a divorce, however, in all except two states, pets are part of the property division process. This can be a painful realization for parties who can't agree on who gets the dog at the end of a marriage. Beliefs and attitudes about pets are changing, however, and in the future, perhaps California laws will accommodate for the best interests of a pet.
Since pets are often beloved family members, whose cost and care is shared between the family, it can be difficult to identify a single owner at the end of a relationship. Because there are a few laws to guide these decisions, if a couple cannot agree, the decision will go to the judge. A judge may use a number of ways to determine who gets the pet.
The judge does not have to weigh the best interests of the pets since animals are considered property. He or she may ask the parties to determine custody, but if they can't agree, the judge may ask one partner to buy the other partner out. The judge may also order that the pet be sold and the proceeds shared between the two parties.
Some individuals eventually work out their own split custody or other pet solutions during a divorce. In the absence of such an agreement, the property division guidelines in California will take over. A person who wants extra help in retaining the family pet may want to reach out to someone. An experienced family law attorney may be able to help preserve one's relationship with a pet after a divorce.