What Happens With Your Pets In A Divorce Or Legal Separation In San Diego: 2014

ARE PETS PART OF YOUR LEGAL SEPARATION OR DIVORCE IN SAN DIEGO SUPERIOR COURT?

Whether you are going through a divorce or legal separation, a very common issue is what happens to your pet or pets? Pets can include dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, Guinea pig, turtles, fish, birds, horses and many others. For many families, there is a very strong emotional tie to their pets and this can be a very emotional and contentious area of your family law case. Pets are part of the family law case and, for spouses with children and without children, can be a major issue. Often, of course, the children become very attached to their pets. What happens when your children are spending time with both parents in different households? Should the pets transfer with the children as in the children’s best interests or live with one of the spouses? There is no clear cut rulings in California which address these concerns but some of the law is listed below.

WHAT IS THE LAW ON WHERE YOUR PETS WILL LIVE AFTER YOU SEPARATE AND LIVE IN DIFFERENT HOUSEHOLDS?

The law in San Diego is clear that there are three types of character for assets: community property; quasi community property and separate property. Pets are personal property under California Civil Code Section 655. As such, a fair market value can be ascertained in the same manner as any other personal property: agreement; appraisal or expert opinion. Some pets may be very valuable in and of themselves [such as a race or stud horse] and some pets are much more than personal property to their owners and are part of the family and a value cannot be placed on this. Clearly, the pet cannot be divided one half each and this means one of the spouses will keep the pet and the other will receive one half of the fair market value or the spouses can agree to share the pet and have a schedule for each parent’s time with their pet. While the law may not permit this “pet visitation”, the parties can certainly agree.

WHAT CRITERIA WILL THE COURT USE IN YOUR DIVORCE OR LEGAL SEPARATION REGARDING WHERE YOUR PETS WILL LIVE?

First, a court will consider who purchased the pet. Second, is there a record of the purchase and, if so, whose name is on the purchase. Clearly, a Court would not want to put a pet into a dangerous situation where the pet can be mistreated or harmed however it is unlikely that the Court would consider the best interests as in a child custody case. If only one spouse wants the pet, then this issue is resolved. However, if both spouses want the pet then there are different resolution methods. The Judge may inquire, first if the pet was a gift to one of the spouses on their birthday or holiday or anniversary or some other date. If a gift, then the law in San Diego is clear and the pet is separate property and will be confirmed to the spouse who it was gifted to under California Family Law Code Section 770. If the pet, however, is community property, then the court may consider the psychological attachment of each party to their pet. This is the best interests of the spouse and not of the pet. This may be accomplished by the testimony of the party or by an expert witness. As to valuation, the Judge has discretion and can use any credible and reliable information in making a decision. must utilize its discretion in making the determination.

HOW CAN AN EXPERIENCED SAN DIEGO FAMILY LAW FIRM HELP?

A divorce or legal separation is very hard and pets can make this so much more emotional. The law firm of Doppelt & Forney, a Professional Law Corporation can assist with your family law goals including your pets and who they will live with. Feel free to schedule a complimentary and confidential consultation at their office up to 30 minutes and discuss your individual case.

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