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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

California Law and Pet Custody


Yesterday, I appeared on Inside Edition to discuss the pet custody dispute arising between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.  Apparently, this famous Hollywood couple has split, and the question now is, "Who gets the dog (named Bear)?"

First off, this case would not belong in Family Court.  They were not married (not a divorce case). They had no children together (not a paternity case.).  Thus, if a dispute were to arise, they would need to bring it in Civil Court.

The ONLY way it could potentially end up in Family Court is if one of them filed a domestic violence restraining order against the other.  Actually, Family Code 6320 is the ONLY statute I am aware of that mentions "pet custody" in the limited circumstance of restraining orders.

Family Code section 6320 (b) states, in relevant part, "On a showing of good cause, the court may include in a protective order a grant to the petitioner of the exclusive case, possession, or control of any ANIMAL owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by either the Petitioner or Respondent or a minor  child residing in the residence or household of either the petitioner or the respondent."

ONLY where there is a showing of good cause, in relation to a domestic violence restraining order, can the Court make any orders regarding an animal.

Otherwise, the California courts tend to view animals as property, not as children.  This means that unlike orders regarding children, the courts need not consider the "best interests" of the pet.  Currently, the law views pets more like a couch than a minor child.  Thus, the courts are unlikely to order "joint custody" of a pet.  Instead of ordering a visitation schedule, or who gets legal custody, the courts will treat the pet as part of an estate which needs to be divvy'ed up.

Obviously, this is outrageous to all of us pet owners.  Our pets are like our children!  Even if you don't own a pet, all you need to do is rent Marley and Me to understand the soulful connections animal-lovers have with their pets.  They live with us; eat with us; sleep with us; grow up with our children - they become a part of our FAMILY.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is an organization which provides a lot of legal advice about animals.  You can garner advice from their article, "What To Do If You Are Involved in a Custody Battle Over Your Companion Animal".