California law prioritizes pet well-being when determining custody in divorce court

Jim and Cecilia Provensal, with their pug, Ernie. (Photo courtesy Cecilia Provensal)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A California law taking effect in January will allow a judge to decide pet custody in divorce court, based on who can provide best for a pet's well-being in cases when couples can't agree on custody themselves.

Traditionally, pets are considered property in the eyes of the law, and pet custody would go to the person who purchased the pet. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2274 into law on Thursday, essentially granting pets the same privileges as children in custody disputes.

Proponents of the law say it could lead to fewer homeless pets, as a number of divorcing couples give up their pets to shelters when they cannot agree to a custody agreement.

In Bakersfield, the Provensals are a family of three – Jim, Cecilia, and their 14-year-old pug, Ernie.

"Ernie is kind of everything to us," Cecilia Provensal said. "Ernie makes the Christmas card every year."

The couple, married for 18 years, considers Ernie their one and only child, and even though they have never considered divorcing, they've signed an agreement to prioritize Ernie's best interest if they were to ever split.

"We kind of took action on things that we didn't want to affect our marriage or negatively affect our dog," Cecilia Provensal said.

They decided Ernie would stay with Jim, and Cecilia would have visitation rights.

"I mean we both want him, but in the conversation of what's best for Ernie, I know he's more attached to my husband than he is to me," she said.

Some couples who tie the knot after adopting a pet sign pet prenuptial agreements, sometimes called "pre-pups" to avoid any custody battles later on.

"Talking about things when you're clear-headed, there aren't emotions involved, I think are the best times to have those conversations," Cecilia Provensal said.

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