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The Future of Pets and Divorce: Will Alaska’s New Law Affect California Divorce?

Imagine that your children couldn’t talk to communicate their needs. Not only that but their needs and interests weren’t considered by the law. How would you or your partner arrange to care for them during a life transition like a divorce? How would you divide responsibilities, particularly if you were in conflict at the time of the divorce?

Pets occupy an interesting legal space in divorce. They are certainly not children, but, emotionally, they may be family members, and crucially, they are dependents – they need care, love and regular routines, all of which require responsibility for their wellbeing and a time commitment. As far as the law goes, technically they are understood as property. This may be changing, however, as Alaska this January became the first state to consider the wellbeing of animals in divorce cases.

With animal cruelty felony laws now existing in 50 states, it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of pets as merely “property”, even if technically they still are. California’s Family Code Section 6320 for example protects domestic animals if there is cause to believe a pet may be at risk from harm from a party in a relationship.

Despite the change in attitude represented by the Alaska law, if you’re getting a divorce in California, you should be aware that efforts to consider the wellbeing of pets don’t extend to a predefined legal structure dictating custody, visitation and support. Added to this, California’s community property laws mean that a much loved animal may need to be considered in terms of its monetary value, or who “owns” it, depending on whether it was acquired before or after divorce. This will be a reckoning that is up to couples to face, even if it is emotionally difficult. Despite the fact that more and more couples are seeking pet visitation arrangements, the issue of how to care for pets after a divorce in California is largely up to parties to define, not the courts. This means that prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements and pre-planning with your spouse may be essential if you want to ensure that your pet is cared for, and future conflict is minimized. Even if you don’t have a prenup, you may want to bring the issue of how to care for your pet after divorce to mediation. This may be an emotional issue for some, so co-ordinating visitation or deciding on care will be a delicate issue.

How We Can Help

At Boileau Conflict Solutions, we do animal rights mediation AND complex divorce mediation. We know California law in both these areas, and we are experts at crafting optimum agreements to cater to professionals with complex lives who might require pet visitation agreements, or who may need to establish ownership of the pet. We can help you negotiate a prenup or post-nup and/or come to a solution that’s in the best interests of your much-loved pet.

Please see the following articles for more information:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2016/10/dear_prudence_i_want_a_dog_prenup_in_case_we_divorce.html

http://www.divorcemag.com/blog/pet-visitation-is-it-worth-the-trouble

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/dogs-children-divorce-custody-pets-family-law-italy-a7425271.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/12/21/a-divorcing-couple-asked-a-judge-to-treat-their-dogs-like-children-here-was-his-reply/?utm_term=.952dd6eb19bf

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