in-a-divorcePets have historically been overlooked in terms of divorce. They’ve been simply considered to be part of the marital property, much like your TV or your stereo system, with ownership being awarded to one party or another at the final divorce decree.

Times, however, are changing. There are new laws on the books in the state of California that allow judges far more flexibility where pet ownership and custody are concerned, and there are even some cases in which a family pet is considered to be in the same category as a child.

This is tricky ground, and you’ll definitely want to engage an experienced divorce attorney if there are cherished pets involved in the proceeding, and contention about who has rights to the pets in question. The court may order sole custody to one party versus another, especially if it can be demonstrated that your spouse may wish to harm your beloved pet as a means of getting back at you.

Likely, however, the best way to handle pet custody is to do it on the front end, with a “Pet Pre-Nup.” This document would explicitly spell out who would get custody of the pet in question, and under what circumstance.

Non-pet owners may roll their eyes at this and not see why it matters, but if you have a cherished pet, then you know how deep the emotional bond and connection can be. In your eyes, your pet really is your child, in some ways. Unfortunately, if you have an angry and embittered spouse who does not share your views on the animal, he or she may seek to harm your pet out of spite, and there are few laws in place to protect the animal or punish the person committing the violence against them. For these reasons, you may want to consider a “Pet Pre-Nup,” but if you don’t have one, and your divorce proceedings are already underway, then you should definitely consult with your attorney to see what can be done to protect your best friend.