Thanks to a new law signed by outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown, beginning in the new year, pets will be considered more than "property" by judges deciding which spouse gets them in a divorce. Judges are directed to consider who can better care for the animal. There's also guidance in the law about making provisions for the pet's "custody" while the terms of the divorce are being worked out.
As with other issues that come up in divorce, most couples would prefer to decide who gets their four-legged companions on their own. However, sometimes they see things so differently that there's no room for compromise.
Sadly, as one attorney points out, pets can be used as bargaining chips for spouses to get something else. In some cases, a person who's not even particularly fond of the animal may fight for it just to hurt their estranged spouse.
One way that couples can avoid one of these painful scenarios is to include provisions about pets in their prenuptial agreements. They can detail who will keep the pets in a divorce and also who will pay veterinary bills and other animal care expenses.
This can be tricky when two people who bring their individual pets into a marriage will likely have different animals if they divorce a decade or more later. They may have adopted those animals together and be equally bonded with them.
Some couples will stipulate that the animals will have the same custody arrangement as the one that is worked out for their children. It should be noted that prenups can't address child custody, but they can state that the pets will stay with whatever children the couple has.
If a couple doesn't plan on having children, they'll need to determine what arrangement they think will be fair if they're going to include current and future fur children in their prenup. You might also consider addressing your pets if you get a postnuptial agreement later. Your attorney can go over your options and provide valuable guidance.