As beloved as pets are by many couples in Oregon, they do not have the same status as children when it comes to divorce disputes. While pets do not have legal status in California either, a newly signed law allows California judges to apply the same criteria to pet ownership disagreements that they use to determine custody of a child.
In the past, disputes over pet ownership during divorce proceedings have gotten contentious, and without clear guidelines over how to handle the matter, judges have sometimes had to settle the disagreement by arbitrary means. The new law allows family court judges to weigh factors such as who plays with the pet or takes it on walks, feeds the pet, takes it to the groomers or the vet and so on.
The assemblyman who introduced the law, who refers to himself as the proud owner of a rescue dog, says pets deserve recognition as members of the family. However, it is important to note that the new law does not grant the same legal status to pets that children have in family court. In other words, when it comes to divorce, the court will still regard pets as community property even after the law goes into effect at the first of next year. Nevertheless, the new law gives pets slightly more status than a couple’s inanimate possessions.
At this time, it is unclear whether the law will apply to all pets. It certainly applies to dogs, and cats are a possibility, but so far there has been no mention of rodents, birds or reptiles as beneficiaries of the legislation.
Property disputes can be difficult to resolve, even when living creatures are not involved, and those embattled in a contentious divorce dispute may wish to consult an attorney.