Losing a beloved pet in a breakup might be worse than the breakup itself. One woman going through a divorce told her therapist she didn’t mind it when her husband left the family home but “wept uncontrollably” when she had to sell her horse. The courts don’t see it that way, though. Pets are thought of as community property, to be divided up like TVs, furniture, and all the other inanimate stuff lying around the soon-to-be-much-emptier house.
In California, that will change, starting next year. Assembly Bill 2274, signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, will allow a judge to take “into consideration the care of the pet animal.” A judge may now assign sole or joint custody of based on the “prevention of acts of harm or cruelty” and “the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter,” meaning the courts now consider who will take care of the animals and not just their dollar value.
While joint custody may not be the best thing for a dog itself, it is a step in the direction of thinking of pets less as things and more as the fur babies they have become as people have kids later in life and treat their animals more like children.
There are similar laws in Alaska and Illinois, but California’s move makes it the biggest state by far in the US to consider the importance of pets to a dissolving relationship. Next year, California will be the first state to require pet stores to sell rescue animals and, by 2020, will also require its Department of Parks and Recreation to maintain real-time information on the number of state parks that allow dogs.
The pet-custody bill was proposed by assemblyman Bill Quirk, who has a rescued Maltese-Shih Tzu mix named Luna.