Who Gets the Dog?
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Published: December 20, 2019

New California Law Gives Pets Same Custody Rights as Children

“People who love their dogs almost always love them forever,” Justice Matthew Cooper said after the new ruling, “but with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry.”

At Kenneth Flood Law our Victorville Divorce Attorneys have had to brush up on the new laws about to take effect. Lets find out more!

What's it all about?

A new animal custody measure is thrilling animal right’s activists and pet-lovers alike, but some fear it will cause more problems than it will solve.

A New Year, A New Law

A new California law will be released on New Year’s Day, giving the role of pet custody extra bite in the courtroom. Under this new bill, judges will be granted authority to settle pet custody cases under the same guidelines used to determine child custody.

Ultimately, this means that the best interests of the animal will be considered when deciding which parent should have custody. No longer will a pet become part of the family property, giving them as much status as a couple’s flat screen TV.

The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday 5th December 2019, allows judges the discretion to consider who feeds, walks, cleans, and takes care of the animal when deciding who can live with the animal post-divorce. It will no longer matter which individual may have spent the initial money to purchase the animal.

State Assembly member Bill Quirk told reporters, “to treat a pet as property made no sense to me. We’ve actually had judges who said: “you can sell the dog and split the proceeds.”

All You Need to Know

A 2014 study found that at 88%, dogs make up the vast majority of pet custody fights. 5% of this is for cats, and 1% for horses.

  • Both the governor and the sponsor of the new law were hardly impartial – both of them are self-confessed dog owners.
  • The law doesn’t just apply to dogs. Pet is defined as “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.”
  • Until now, rules were vague and the eventual destination of your pet was left up to your judge’s personal opinion.
  • In 2000, Stanley and Linda Perkins spent $150,000 on their legal battle, which centered on their disagreement over who lived with the family dog.


Not everyone is thrilled with the new law coming into effect, however. Judge Arthur Engoron said giving dogs extra rights would create a “slippery slope.”

He said, “if dogs were deemed to have rights, why not cats, raccoons, squirrels, fish, ants – cockroaches? Could you be imprisoned for swatting a fly? Where will it all end?”

Some Victorville divorce Lawyers may always look less favorably on the new law. Custody cases are litigious even at the best of times, and with courts already clogged up with custody cases, a new raft of pet custody battles may overwhelm the court system. However, Bill Quirk comments that as the law was made optional to judges, this allowed flexibility and not to get bogged down with “that kind of cottage industry forming.”

David Favre said, when praising the status change for family pets, “there are anti-cruelty laws, you can’t get arrested for beating up your couch.” David Schaffer goes further to state that the new law should “prevent couples from weaponizing their pets in divorce cases. It can stop a spouse from hurting the other person through the pet.”

The new California law is only the third of its kind in the United States. Alaska was the first to pass a pet best interest law in 2017. Illinois enacted theirs earlier in 2019.

It is important to understand current laws when going through a divorce. California is dynamic and can at times be a lengthy and confusing process if you don’t have the experience behind you. Contact an experienced attorney today to help you through your case.





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