Choosing to raise an animal with someone can be a serious commitment. Regardless of whether you and your spouse share children, if you share companion animals, the animal can easily contribute to people staying in an unhappy relationship.

Most people have heard at least one sad story about a loving pet owner who loses out on an animal that they love because of a divorce. There are even horrifying stories of spouses euthanizing beloved animals after the courts award the animals to them in a divorce.

It’s perfectly reasonable that you want to protect your companion animal and the relationship you have with it. As someone living and filing in California, what can you expect from the court regarding your pet? Are they just another piece of property in the eyes of the courts?

California has one of the more cutting-edge laws on pets in divorce

Historically, across most of the country, pets receive treatment as possessions in a divorce. Thankfully, California is leading the way in changing that unhealthy approach. A pet is usually part of the family, not just an item worth a fixed amount of money.

Under a relatively new law, judges presiding over contested divorces in California should consider the best interests of an animal if both spouses want the animal to be part of their household. Factors such as the pre-existing relationship between person and animal, resources to care for the animal and daily schedule may all influence what a judge determines is in the best interest of the animal.

In cases where the animal has a clear bond with both parties, judges do have the ability to grant shared custody. This could be particularly useful for families with children, as the dog could travel back and forth between households with the kids.

Ask yourself what the best interests of your pet will include

In a married relationship, each partner can pick up a little slack when the other doesn’t have time to take the dogs for a walk or when someone forgets to feed their pet.

When planning a strategy for your upcoming divorce, especially as it pertains to your pet, you should ask yourself what would the best outcome actually be for your pet and whether you have the time and resources to care for it. If you do, advocating for sole or shared custody of that pet can be one of your top priorities.