In the eyes of their owners, the family pet is practically like a child. So if a marriage falls apart, who gets the right to keep the beloved animal? And if one ex-spouse keeps the pet, may the other get visitation rights? Though the law governing pets in a divorce is quite different than it is for children, recent developments are changing how courts decide cases.

In Most Cases, Pets Are Property

Throughout most of the United States, a pet is considered property, not an individual with its own rights. That has several implications. If the pet was bought or acquired by one partner before the marriage, that pet is still considered his/her personal property. However, the other partner may argue that this property is now jointly owned because it is “comingled”— a legal term that defines when separate property becomes a joint asset through the process of intertwining, or mingling, together of separate and community property.

California Law Has Recently Changed

In 2019, California enacted Family Code section 2605, which laid the foundation for the courts viewing pets as more than just property. Though a pet still doesn't have the same rights as a child, it sets the stage for legal arguments for visitation and considering what might be best for the animal. The new law raises new questions on which factors the court should consider in awarding custody or visitation of a pet. It also allows pet owners to have legally enforceable stipulations, judgments, and orders issued regarding the care of their beloved pet.

How Will The Court Decide Custody in a Dispute?

The law is still new, which means how courts will trend is still developing. However, many of the deciding factors will likely include:

  • Who is the primary caregiver for the animal?
  • Who pays more for their care?
  • Who acquired the pet first?
  • Which parent has primary custody of the human children—and would it be better for all concerned if the pet stayed with the children?
  • Which partner is the better provider financially?
  • Which partner spends the most time with the pet?
  • Which partner can provide a better environment for the pet?


As with children, the dispute on these questions concerning pets can be quite heated.

Park Family Law Can Help

To help you obtain the best negotiated terms for your pet in your divorce, call the attorneys at Park Family Law.

Whether you need an experienced mediator to amicably and efficiently settle your case or an aggressive litigator to get you the best results in court, Park Family Law can assist you every step of the way.