Proposed Legislation Would Change How California Courts Treat Pets During Divorce Proceedings

As family law attorneys and animal lovers, we struggle with how California courts treat our pets. As far as the judicial system is concerned, your pets are property. California courts will not treat your pets like children or entertain a request for pet custody.

On a pawsitive note, change may come sooner than we thought. Thanks to Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), AB 2274 has been written, proposed, and amended on the assembly floor. Originally drafted in February, the bill, in essence, would require a court, upon request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, to assign sole or joint ownership of a community property pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

It’s worth noting that AB 2274 would add Section 2605 to the Family Code. That section (2600 et. seq.) contains rules regarding division of community property assets (i.e., anything you and your spouse have acquired during the marriage). So this bill would still treat pets as property, but would require a court to take into consideration the care of the pet animal. “Care” is further defined as including but not limited to the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter. While that language is still a distance from “best interests of the pet,” it is far better than what we have now.

As a dog-mom, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the existence and progress of this bill. There could, however, be potential pitfalls. Specifically, an already overcrowded judicial docket could see an influx of contested hearings if parties are allowed to argue over their pets. Would this bill set precedent for arguing over commercial livestock as pets? Only time will tell.

You can read the full text of AB 2274 and Family Code 2605 here.


For more on this topic see our video blog below and this post by my colleague Neil Forester.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keeley Nickelson an attorney with FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC, a Northern California law firm focused exclusively on specialized counsel for complex divorce and family law issues. The firm regularly represents business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, and related actions. Keeley can be reached at or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.
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