SACRAMENTO – Earlier this year, Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) introduced a bill, AB 2274, to give judges more direction about how to handle pet custody disputes in divorce proceedings. His bill will require judges to consider an animal’s interests in divorce proceedings and allow joint ownership of a companion animal.
“There is nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during divorce proceedings,” explained Assemblymember Quirk.
Assemblymember Quirk and his wife adopted Luna, a Maltese Shih Tzu mix, from a Bay Area rescue over two years ago. He has also worked with the Hayward Animal Shelter on an annual adoption and spay and neuter campaign in which he has personally donated over $2,000 in vouchers to help families spay and neuter their pets.
A 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed a 22 percent increase in pet custody hearings in court. This is a growing trend. Many divorce attorneys point out that often a spouse attempts to use the animal as a bargaining chip. Additionally, in a 2015 case involving the custody of Sage, the dog, the California appellate court concluded Sage was community property. Possession was granted on the fact that neither individual “established the dog was their separate property.”
“We appreciate Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s leadership on AB 2274 and thank the Governor for his signature on the bill,” said Brandy Kuentzel, General Counsel of San Francisco SPCA. “Today more than ever, people consider their pets as part of the family, not just personal property to be divvied up like an appliance or furniture. When it comes to legal separation, it is important to consider the care of the animal.”
“The signing of AB 2274 makes clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal. I am proud that Governor Brown, as a fellow pet owner, agrees that we need to alter our view of pet safety and animal welfare,” said Assemblymember Quirk upon learning his bill was signed.
AB 2274 goes into effect January 1, 2019.