Divorce in California and elsewhere continues to take on new issues as the law and people’s values evolve. One area where that dynamic is seen often is on the issue of which spouse gets to keep the family dog, or even their faithful and affectionate cats, after the divorce. It is a sad commentary on human nature, but in some divorces, spouses are known to use the family pet as a bargaining tool or a hammer of revenge.

Sometimes, the problem can be associated not with manipulation but because of a genuine attachment that each spouse has with the animal. In some relationships, the thought of parting with a beloved pet may be nearly as emotional as negotiating for child custody and visitation. The issue can get so involved that divorcing couples are now inserting clauses in their prenuptial agreements to cover their pets.

The provision can include care and custody of the pet, along with mandated veterinarian services and the procedures for making medical decisions after the divorce. In some instances, visitation may actually be a realistic way of keeping everybody happy, including the dog. A prenuptial agreement is a contract entered into prior to marriage in which the soon-to-be spouses delineate a number of issues, including how the assets will be divided in the event of a divorce.

Such contracts are enforceable in California and difficult to attack during later divorce proceedings. It may be difficult to predict or settle issues regarding pets in a pre-marital contract. But such an attempt may work in some common situations. Where the pet belonged to one of the spouses, it would be logical for that spouse to keep the pet after the divorce. Where the pets have not yet been acquired, it may be wise to put some provisions in the prenuptial agreement to attempt to prevent later disputes and provide a satisfactory and fair way to treat the animal and the respective spouses if the worst-case scenario develops.