Divorcing couples worry and wonder about many things, including the division of marital property, child custody and support and spousal maintenance. One thing that may not be considered until the last minute is the fate of a beloved pet. California Governor Jerry Brown has recently signed a bill that gives judges the explicit legal power to determine which spouse gets custody of a pet in a divorce and under what circumstances the non-custodial spouse can visit or have custody of the animal. Before the passage of this act, divorcing pet owners had no clear guidance about whether the court would consider a pet to be community property.

With the passage of this legislation, either party may file a motion with the court asking it to determine, prior to determining final ownership of the animal, which party shall be responsible for the care and feeding of the animal during the pendency of the divorce proceeding. The court, in its final order, can award sole or joint custody of the pet. The court must consider how the parties will care for the animal.

The bill defines “care” to include the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty and providing food and water, veterinary care and safe and protected shelter. The law applies to any animal that is community property, that is, acquired during the marriage, and that is kept as a household pet.

Anyone considering a divorce may want to get more information about the custody of family pets. A divorce attorney can provide advice about the legal treatment of pets and on the effect of the new law.