May 16, 2014 By Paul Wallin
Pet custody issues during divorce.

Custody disputes over family pets have been rising steadily over the years. In a 2006 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 25 percent of respondents said they had noticed a major increase in pet custody cases over the five previous years. Attorney David Pisarra of Santa Monica says pet custody cases have grown 15 percent in his office alone over the last five years.1

Pets are considered property in every state. This means that by law, judges can simply divide them amongst spouses like televisions or furniture. Typically, if a child is involved in a divorce, the judge will make sure the pet stays with him or her. But what if the pet is the “child”? How do the courts handle family pets that both spouses are attached to?

Judges are now viewing pets more like children than as furniture or other assets. The courts are recognizing the emotional attachment that parents have to their pets and are beginning to take greater care in dividing cats, dogs, and other pets among their families.2

Because there are no laws that specifically recognize animal custody or visitation, it often is up to both parties to come to a compromise. If you and your ex-partner cannot come up with a reasonable plan for the pet(s), an experienced family law attorney at Wallin & Klarich can help you resolve this difficult situation.

Your Pet is Not Just Property (California Family Law Code Section 6320)

As of 2008, the law protects your pets if there is reason to believe that one of the parties may harm them. According to Family Law Code Section 6320:

“On a showing of good cause, the court may include in a protective order a grant to the petitioner of the exclusive care, possession, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either the petitioner or the respondent.”3

If there is reason to believe that the other spouse is endangering your pet, the court may grant you full possession of it. If your pet is not in danger from your ex, there are several custody options. Compromising to reach one of these options is your best bet to ensuring you and your pet’s happiness:

  • Joint custody: You and your ex share custody of your pet if you both have homes and lifestyles that are healthy for it;
  • Full custody: When you or your ex does not have a home that is suitable for the pet, one of you may want to consider full custody; and
  • Sole custody with visitation rights: If you or your ex does not have a home that is suitable for the pet, but you allow the other to have specific visitation rights.

Some things to consider when deciding on custody of the pet are:

  • Which living environment is best for you and the animal;
  • Whose lifestyle is best for handling a pet;
  • If you have children that may be emotionally attached to the pet as well; and
  • If you have other pets in your home that have strong bonds to one another.4

Call the Divorce Lawyers at Wallin & Klarich Today

A divorce or separation from a significant other is not only stressful for you, but for your children and pets alike. Deciding who gets custody of your pets is yet another complicated piece to the divorce puzzle. If you and your ex cannot decide on a custody option for your pet(s), a knowledgeable family law attorney can help you fight for pet custody. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been successful handling all aspects of divorce and custodial agreements for over 30 years.

With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, one of our knowledgeable attorneys is available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (888) 749-7428 for a free phone consultation or visit We will get through this together.


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