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In the latter part of 2018, California lawmakers approved some changes to the way that judges view the family pet in a divorce. Essentially, the court can decide joint or sole ownership and establish a visitation schedule -- much like what is done with child custody. The court will also take into consideration who has been the pet's primary caretaker and what's in the best interest of the animal.

So, how do you prove that you're the family pet's primary caretaker in court? If you suspect it will be an issue, you need to start gathering evidence. Some of the most important things you can use include:

  • Your invoice for the purchase of the pet, if you bought it from a breeder or store, showing that you as the owner
  • Your registration papers, if the animal is a pure breed dog or cat, showing your ownership
  • All your pet's medical records, including receipts, showing that you paid for the animal's treatment
  • Records of any training classes you attended with your pet, like obedience school for dogs
  • Receipts from any pet sitting service or boarder where your animal was cared for when you were out of town
  • Photographs of you and your pet together -- especially of you caring for your pet's needs (such as photos of you walking the dog or teaching the dog to play "fetch")

You also need to be prepared to offer court testimony that explains why it is in your pet's best interest to be with you -- and not your spouse. For example, maybe your dog is elderly and can't handle the stress of moving between homes all the time. Maybe your spouse works long hours and won't be able to provide your active dog with the exercise it needs to be healthy and happy.

Settling the issue of who keeps the family pet is just one of the complicated property issues you may have to settle in your divorce. Make certain that you get experienced advice before you start.

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