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New law helps divorce courts decide custody of pets

For years, courts have struggled with the question of whether pets should be considered like any other property in a divorce, or should get some special consideration. A new California law set to go into effect in 2019 will make a pet ownership dispute less like a fight over retirement accounts and real estate, and something more like a child custody dispute.

The law, known as AB 2274, was signed into law this past fall by Gov. Jerry Brown, and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019. The law allows divorce courts to award custody of a pet during divorce proceedings. Courts can assign sole custody to one of the parties or joint custody split between the two parties. To make this decision, the law says, courts can consider the care of the animal.

Proponents of AB 2274 argued that without the law, judges had to get creative when deciding on pet disputes in divorce proceedings. There have been reports of judges bringing a dog into the courtroom before the parties to see which owner it approached first, and making their determination on that basis. While these creative approaches could have good results, they added a lot of uncertainty among courts and unpredictability among divorcing spouses and their lawyers, and of course, their pets. The new law, proponents say, will lead to more consistent results.

The new law also allows judges to determine who will have custody of the pet before the final determination is made.

It's important to remember that most divorces are settled out of court through some form of negotiation. When crafting their own settlement, spouses can make their own determinations about custody of pets, rather than leaving these decisions up to a judge.

If you want to learn more about pet custody in a divorce, speak to a family law attorney. With the help of a good lawyer, you may be able to work out a divorce settlement that protects your interests and keeps your relationship with your pet.

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