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How a new California law impacts pets of divorcing couples

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that will provide new guidance to California family law judges who are asked to determine which spouse will get to keep the family pets or how the couple will share "custody" of them during and after the divorce.

The new law, which takes effect at the beginning of 2019, instructs judges to consider the well-being of the animal and look at testimony and evidence presented by each side regarding how involved they've been in the animals' care during the marriage.

Currently, pets are viewed as property under California law -- just as they are in most states -- when it comes to determining who gets them. That traditional view is starting to change. Illinois and Alaska have already made similar alterations in their laws to recognize pets as the sentient beings they are and not akin to furniture, jewelry and antiques to be divided by couples.

The legislator behind the bill, California Assemblyman Bill Quirk of Hayward, refers to himself as "the proud parent" of a mixed breed rescue dog. He says that pets need to be recognized as the family members that they are to most of us. Gov. Brown is a well-known "dog parent" himself.

Of course, it's generally best when couples can work out the custody, visitation and support arrangements for their pets on their own as part of their divorce agreement. This will save the time, stress and expense involved in taking the matter to court. Whether you have to take the issue before a judge or you and your spouse deal with the matter on your own, your California family law attorney can help you work to seek an arrangement that's best for you and your animals.

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