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How to Share Custody of Your Pet After Filing For Divorce

On Behalf of | Jun 9, 2023 | Firm News

In today’s modern families, pets often hold a cherished place as beloved companions and valued family members. However, when a couple decides to part ways, the question of who gets custody of their furry friends can be a significant point of contention. California, being a progressive state with a deep appreciation for animal welfare, has specific laws and guidelines regarding the sharing of pets during divorce or separation. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating world of sharing pets in California family law.

Prior to 2019, pets were considered “property,” no different than a car or a kitchen table. As of January 1, 2019, however, the new pet custody law enjoins judges in family courts across California to take the best interests and care of the pet animal into consideration during the divorce proceedings. This means that now, California courts can “assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.”

Some of the factors California Courts will look at when making a custody order or arrangement for a pet are:

  • Is the pet an emotional support animal?
  • Who adopted the pet?
  • Who spends the most time with the pet?
  • Who protects the pet?
  • Who purchases food, toys, and other things for the pet?
  • Who feeds the pet?
  • Who walks the pet?
  • Who takes the pet to the vet?
  • Have there been allegations of domestic abuse or abuse of pets?

Options for Pet Sharing:

California courts have the authority to order joint or sole custody of pets. Joint custody arrangements may involve shared physical custody, where the pet spends time with each party, or shared legal custody, where both parties have equal decision-making power regarding the pet’s welfare. Sole custody means that only one party has the right to possess and care for the pet.

Alternative Dispute Resolution:

California encourages couples to resolve pet custody disputes through mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods. This allows parties to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement outside of court, which can help maintain amicability and minimize stress for all involved.


Sharing pets in California family law is a multifaceted and evolving area. Courts in California prioritize the best interests of the pet when determining custody arrangements, considering factors such as the primary caretaker, emotional bond, living situation, child welfare, stability, and schedule. It is crucial for separating or divorcing couples to understand the laws and options available to ensure the well-being and happiness of their beloved pets during challenging times. By working together and considering the welfare of their furry friends, families can find amicable solutions that benefit both humans and animals alike.