Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce in California?

During divorce proceedings, the division of property is a common procedure most couples must go through. However, some divorcing couples can’t seem to see eye-to-eye on who gets the dog after the divorce. Dogs are often considered important members of the family and who the dog goes to may be very important to divorcing spouses. However, in the state of California, pets including dogs and cats, are treated as property, not much different from a chair or desk. Therefore, in a divorce, the dog may be included in the division of property rather than custody proceedings.

California law dictates that a dog, seen as a piece of property under the law, will be subjected to the factors that determine how property will be divided between the divorcing couple. This means that the court will not, nor do they have the ability to, grant custody rights to either party of the dog. The court will only determine ownership of the animal and will not take the animal’s best interest into consideration. It is recommended for couples who have agreed to keep the dog’s best interest in mind to consider reaching a compromise amongst themselves regarding how visitation will be carried out for the dog. Custody and visitation, not legal ownership, can be handled by the couple and not the court. Mediation is an appropriate way to handle this issue. It is also possible to hire a third party, such as an attorney with mediation experience, to help divorcing couples reach a compromise.

It is also possible to sue for ownership of the dog the same way one would sue for ownership of a TV or game console. When it comes to these retail items, presenting a proof of purchase such as a receipt could help prove ownership. As for pets, it can get a little tough to prove ownership without a proof of purchase. However, adoption papers and receipts for veterinary treatment or grooming could help strengthen your ownership case. These are typically treated as civil cases and go through a small claims court. Usually, the small claims court awards monetary value. However, in the case of dog ownership, it is possible to ask for non-monetary value. If this request is put it, the court could decide to award you ownership and order the dog given to you. They could also order that you receive the monetary value of the dog instead, so make sure you know which option you prefer before going to small claims court.

Are you in the middle of a divorce and worried about your pet’s best interest? Thinking about filing a claim for pet ownership? Make sure to contact an experienced claims attorney to assist you during the proceedings. Our divorce lawyers at are prepared to look over your case and give you appropriate legal advice. Call the law office of Lowthorp Richards to schedule your next consultation.