Beginning Next Year, Pets Will Be Treated More Like Children Than Possessions During Divorce Proceedings In California

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Photos from Assemblymember Bill Quirk, Facebook

Beginning January 1, 2019, judges in California will be required to consider an animal’s interests in divorce proceedings and allow joint ownership of a companion animal.

While that is positive news, the new legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk earlier this year and signed late last month by Governor Jerry Brown, sadly still refers to pets as community “property.”

“There is nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property,” Assemblymember Quirk said in a statement. “They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings.”

Assemblymember Quirk and his wife adopted Luna, a Maltese Shih Tzu mix, from a Bay Area rescue over two years ago. He has also worked with the Hayward Animal Shelter on an annual adoption, spay, and neuter campaign in which he has personally donated over $2,000.00 in vouchers to help families spay and neuter their pets.

“The signing of AB 2274 makes it clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal,” continued Quirk. “I am proud that Governor Brown, as a fellow pet owner, agrees that we need to alter our view of pet safety and animal welfare.”

A 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed a 22% increase in pet custody hearings in court. This is a growing trend. Many divorce attorneys point out that often a spouse attempts to use the animal as a bargaining chip.

“We appreciate Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s leadership on AB 2274 and thank the Governor for his signature on the bill,” said Brandy Kuentzel, General Counsel of San Francisco SPCA. “Today more than ever, people consider their pets as part of the family, not just personal property to be divvied up like an appliance or furniture. When it comes to legal separation, it is important to consider the care of the animal.”

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