California couples often treat their pets not as animals, but as valued members of the family. While this arrangement may work out great for some families, it can also present a serious problem during divorce. Who gets to keep the dog when it is more like a child than a pet? A new law gives judges the ability to help couples address this issue. 

Pets are generally considered property during a divorce, regardless of how owners might feel about them. Since divorcing couples typically do not share custody of property — no one is getting the couch for one week then driving it over to their ex’s — dealing with animals during divorce has not always been easy. While the recently signed bill does not change the fact that animals are community property, it does give judges the discretion to treat the matter like child custody. 

Animals cannot express which owner they would rather live with, but judges can take a variety of factors into account if a couple takes the matter before them. These include who fed the animal, took them on walks, transported them to the vet and more. The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2019 and aims to make things easier for family law judges and divorcing couples alike. 

California couples will not necessarily have to go before a judge to settle pet-related matters. Like with other issues such as property division or child custody, individuals can still reach an agreement between themselves. However, the new option will give pet owners reassurance when going through a divorce.