Having to deal with the stress of a domestic violence incident is difficult enough without adding more factors, but the reality is that many persons that may be exposed to a domestic violence incident may also be pet owner’s themselves or jointly with the person that may have been the aggressor in that domestic violence incident. There is even the scenario where the pet itself may be an issue in terms of domestic violence either through the urging of the aggressor/owner or due to its own temperamental or aggressive disposition.
It’s unfortunately common for pets to be an acrimonious subject where the Parties to a domestic violence incident are unable to agree to their disposition or even with a divorce where they are unable also to come to an agreement as to what to do with “Snowball”. Thankfully, in California there is some guidance in the area of how pets may be included in a domestic violence restraining order (“DVRO”).
How Is Domestic Violence Generally Defined In California & Why Do Pets Matter In this Definition?
In California, “domestic violence” is defined as “abuse” perpetrated against a spouse, dating partner, or other person listed in Section 6211 of the California Family Code. “Abuse” is defined in Section 6203 and includes engaging in a behavior that “has been or could be” enjoined under Section 6320.
Harming an animal owned by the Petitioner, Respondent, or resident child is included among the behaviors that may be enjoined under Section 6320.
Since harming a Petitioner’s pets is listed among the behaviors that can be prohibited under a domestic violence protective order, past harm to such pets is considered abuse to the petitioner and therefore domestic violence.
Pet’s May Be Included In A DVRO In California:
California law specifically provides for protection of pets within DVROs. The Court can issue an order awarding custody of a pet to a particular party, for a particular party to stay away and/or refrain from harming the pet, and even include the pet itself in an order that the pet is to stay away from the victim along with the human aggressor.
So yes, not only may a DVRO protect you and your pet(s), but it you may also be able to move to restrain a problematic pet as part of your DVRO proceeding. (I.e., Snowball has to go versus Snowball needs increased safety).
Specifically, “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 or a minor child residing in the residence or household of either the petitioner or the respondent. The court may order the respondent to stay away from the animal and forbid the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, harming, or otherwise disposing of the animal.” Ann.Cal.Fam.Code § 6320(b).
Abuse Of A Pet May Bolster Contentions Of Abuse Elsewhere:
The inclusion of pets and subsequent protection under California DVROs provide the ability for the moving party (e.g., the “Petitioner”) to seek their own protection along with protection for their pet from the alleged aggressor and responding party (e.g., the “Respondent”).
Furthermore, evidence of abuse by the Respondent of the Petitioner’s pet is not only considered domestic violence in itself for these purposes but may also be used as further evidence to support the Petitioner’s argument that they’re in need of a DVRO.
You May Be Able To Include A Pet In Your DVRO:
This same theory can also be used where the pet itself is being used by the Respondent for the purposes of intimidating or inflicting abuse upon the Petitioner to move to have the pet included with the DVRO along with the Respondent. Evidence of the pet being permitted to harm or present a threat of harm by the Petitioner may also support their argument that abuse is occurring, and that the DVRO is necessary to protect the Petitioner and that this protection will require the restraint and potential move-out of both the Respondent and the offending pet. With sufficient evidence, a pet may be included along with the human respondent for the purposes of a stay-order, and potentially move-out order, as party of the DVRO.
This can lead to the scenario where the Respondent accused and/or liable to domestic violence must not just removes themselves from the joint residence but they must also take the subject pet with them as it is included along with them as part of the existing DVRO.
Should I Include A Pet In A Restraining Order?
Depending on the situation, you may want to move to either include your pet(s) for the purpose of protection or for the purpose of removal as the pet may also present a danger. In either scenario, if you intend to include a pet in such a proceeding, you will want to start with including any type of evidence and descriptions you have available of past incidents of abuse involving the pet or where the pet has caused harm to you or others in the alternative.
Including such incidents is important for two reasons:
(1) Recounting past pet abuse will bolster the case for protecting pets in the order;
(2) As indicated above, California law considers abuse of petitioner’s pets as domestic violence against the petitioner. Thus, recounting pet abuse will bolster the case for the order itself.
What Facts Do I Need To Include?
When speaking with your attorney assuming you have obtained one, that attorney will not know about the existence of your pets most likely unless you notify your attorney. Do either of the Parties involved have a service animal? Has either Party ever abused one or more animals? Did that abuse impact or threaten you? Do you have anything that may help present your case in terms of the animal, etc..
Obviously if you’re submitting your petition for a DVRO yourself, you’ll be aware of the pet’s existence but in both instances, the same general information will be necessary for you to provide and obtain in order to increase your likelihood of success.
- Statements made by the Respondent (E.g., Threats of abuse towards the pet or minimization of harm caused by the pet allowed by Respondent or at Respondent’s behest)
- Veterinary records (Applicable for either showing harm abuse by Respondent or damage caused by Pet towards Petitioner)
- Photographs of injuries
- Evidence of prior animal abuse
- Prior convictions for animal abuse – If applicable
- Testimony of a police officer – If applicable
- Testimony of a veterinarian – If applicable
There are various reasons partially presented above that may warrant heavy consideration in terms of including a pet in any DVRO and/or including details related to prior abuse involving animals or pets. You will want to seek the advice and services of a California licensed Family Law attorney to determine how and why you may want to include a pet in a DVRO and what type of information related to pets and prior abuse, or incidents may also be supportive of your position involving a DVRO even where the pet is not contemplated as an item of inclusion.