Pet owners often consider their animals a part of the family. Unfortunately, under state law, pets are considered a type of property called “chattel”, which includes all personal moveable property, i.e., vehicles, clothes, artwork and pets.

Since pets are legally classified as property, emotional attachments may not be considered during a court litigated divorce.

Why pet custody issues can be difficult for owners

Although children as well as pets require a loving home, food and health care to flourish, the court is not likely to provide custody and support plans for the care of your pet as it automatically would for your child. If left to the Court’s determination, the court will likely review your pet’s background much as it would review the history of a car. For example, before deciding which party gets custody of the pet, the Judge may want to know who bought the pet, whether the pet was purchased before or after the marriage, and whether the pet was a gift to one spouse from the other. The Judge would award the pet to one party or the other based on the answers to these questions.

Rather than leave it up to the Court to decide, it may be best for all involved, including the pet, to go through mediation to resolve this particular issue.

Litigation versus mediation

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution, supported in California by The Dispute Resolution Program Act of 1986. It is a legal negotiation that can be used to resolve all issues of a divorce, or to resolve limited issues such as custody of a pet. Mediation is an alternative process that allows divorcing couples the opportunity to come to an agreement on some, if not all issues. Mediation can limit, or avoid, the often costly and time consuming process of a court litigated divorce.

Mediation provides the parties the opportunity to develop and agree upon who will have custody of their pet, whether or not there will be visitation, and how vet bills, food, training and boarding will be handled. These personalized arrangements will then be included in their Marital Settlement Agreement/Judgment.

An experienced Family Law Mediator can help guide you and your spouse through the divorce process and help you ensure that a settlement is developed that both sides agree upon, whether it is on the limited issue of a pet, or your entire divorce.