California Divorce: Who Gets the Pet?

by | Oct 31, 2023 | Divorce, Property Division, Restraining Orders

You may be surprised to learn that there is the potential for a custody dispute involving the familial pet(s) in the event of a divorce. In California, as in many other states, pets are considered property in the eyes of the law, and determining who gets custody can be a complex and emotional process. However, California still recognizes that despite pets being considered property, there is greater emotional attachment and although it’s still an asset in the property asset, he/she’s a very special asset.

Understanding Pet Custody in California

Unlike children, pets are classified as personal property under California law, and this classification can make pet custody cases rather challenging. This means that pets are treated more like assets than family members. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the emotional attachment people have to their pets, leading to a shift in how the courts approach pet custody cases. Pets may even be included in domestic violence restraining orders for example, and although they’re still technically consider property, the actual pet is described and named and can even receive protection under that order.

Factors Considered in Pet Custody Cases

In California, when deciding who gets custody of a pet in a divorce, courts may take various factors into account:

  1. Primary Caretaker: Courts often consider who primarily took care of the pet before the divorce. This includes responsibilities such as feeding, grooming, exercise, and veterinary care. The person who was the primary caretaker may have a stronger claim to custody.
  2. Emotional Attachment: The court may also consider the emotional bond between the pet and each spouse. Evidence of the emotional connection can be vital in determining who the pet should reside with.
  3. Best Interests of the Pet: Courts in California are increasingly emphasizing the best interests of the pet. They may evaluate which living situation would be more stable and suitable for the animal’s well-being.
  4. Agreements Between Spouses: If the spouses have a prenuptial agreement or a pet custody agreement in place, the court is likely to honor the terms outlined in those agreements.

Mediation and Settlement

Rather than leaving the decision entirely to the courts, divorcing couples in California have the option to reach a mutual agreement through mediation or negotiation. This approach allows the couple to work together to determine the best outcome for their pet. Mediation can be a more amicable and less stressful way to address pet custody.

The Role of Legal Representation

In pet custody cases, having legal representation can be beneficial. Attorneys can help their clients negotiate and mediate the custody arrangement and advocate for their interests in court if necessary. It’s also important to acknowledge that this is a developing area of law in this state and navigating how to move for and/or oppose a pet custody proceeding can be complex and unusual.


Pet custody in a divorce can be an emotionally charged issue, and it’s essential to understand the laws and guidelines in place in California. The courts are increasingly recognizing the importance of pets in people’s lives, which is reflected in their evolving approach to these cases. Ultimately, the best interests of the pet are the primary concern, and factors like primary caretaking and emotional bonds will play a significant role in determining who gets custody. If you find yourself in a pet custody dispute during a divorce, it’s advisable to consult with a legal professional who can guide you through the process and help you reach a fair and suitable resolution for your beloved furry friend.