California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday that will give pets more status in divorce cases starting next year.
The law previously required judges to consider pets property, which had to be distributed equally between divorcing couples who couldn’t come to an agreement. This meant that multiple pets might be split between two homes, never to see each other again. Or that two people with history might be forced to meet periodically to pass a single pet between them.
The bill seeks to give pets more consideration – elevating their status past that of just “community property.” A person will be able to petition for sole or joint custody of their pet, and the court will be able to take into mind the care of that pet. For example, who feeds it, shelters it, and protects it. This is especially important in cases where one spouse sees the pet as more of a bargaining chip than a family member.
The bill had the support of several animal welfare groups, including the San Fransisco SPCA and it’s representative Brandy Kuentzel,
“Today more than ever, people consider their pets as part of the family, not just personal property to be divvied up like an appliance or furniture. When it comes to legal separation, it is important to consider the care of the animal.”
The concern seems to be that in some divorce cases, a spouse may end up with custody of a pet they don’t want, and that pet may end up neglected or surrendered when someone else was willing to love and care for it.
The bill was introduced by animal-lover and Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D), who says,
“There is nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”
California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on Thursday, and it will go into effect January 1, 2019. Assemblymember Quirk expressed his delight at having heard that the bill was signed, saying,
“By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal. I am proud that Governor Brown, as a fellow pet owner, agrees that we need to alter our view of pet safety and animal welfare.”
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