Legal experts said the law means judges can take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with. “Before it was an issue of who owns the dog and how you distribute the property,” Favre said. “But pets aren’t quite the same thing as china and sofas. They’re more like children, in that they’re living beings who have their own preferences.”
And as with children, he said, divorce can be “a trauma for animals as well.” In 2000, Stanley and Linda Perkins got into a two-year legal fight in San Diego over their pointer/greyhound mix Gigi. The divorce battle — which wound up costing almost $150,000 — included testimony from an animal behaviorist and a video presentation, a “Day in the Life of Gigi.” It showed Gigi sleeping under Linda Perkins’ chair and cuddling with her. She was eventually awarded custody — and Stanley Perkins got himself another pointer mix.
But the lack of laws defining pets’ rights has led to confusion and animals being treated as regular property. “Not too many judges are willing to go out on that limb,” Favre said. Favre said the California law is a good first step in dealing with inconsistencies in the law, which outside of divorce cases can provide extra legal protection for pets. “There are anti-cruelty laws,” he noted. “You can’t get arrested for beating up your couch.”
“It’s an important statute,” said David Schaffer, a Chicago matrimonial lawyer. “Many judges saw pets just as a piece of property, a marital asset. Those are the non-dog people,” said Schaffer, a self-described dog person. Illinois has a similar law. He said the law so far has been a boon, and predicted it would prevent couples from weaponizing their pets in divorce cases. “It can stop a spouse from hurting the other person through the pet” by blocking them from trying to claim the pet as a piece of property, he said. “I have my own pet, and he’s treated like a little child,” divorce attorney Megan Green of Los Angeles said of her dog. “I don’t believe animals are property — they have feelings.”
GOOD TO KNOW
“Many judges saw pets just as a piece of property, a marital asset. Those are the non-dog people,”