SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) — A new California law changes the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases.

Assembly Bill 2274 was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.

The law allows courts to decide ownership of pets in divorce cases. Courts can assign sole or joint ownership of the pet and consider the care of the animal as well.

The pet can also be placed in the care of one of the parties in the divorce case before the final home of the pet is determined.

In one case, a woman said the dog was a gift from her husband but the husband maintained he was the one who took care of it. They finally worked out a nondisclosure agreement just ahead of trial.

Without the law that goes into effect on Jan. 1, attorneys say judges have often had to get creative in reaching such agreements when both sides say they can’t bear to part with their pet.

Some judges have put the dog between the would-be owners and tried to determine who it liked the best. If a family had two pets, a judge would sometimes suggest splitting them up.

“Or if there’s only one dog, a court may do like, ‘OK, you get the dog a month at a time, a week at a time,” said family law attorney Atousa Saei.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat who introduced the law, said it’s time family pets got the status they deserve – family members.

Quirk himself has a Maltese-ShihTzu mix named Luna and calls himself “the proud parent of a rescued dog.”

He found an ally in California’s pet-loving governor, who has a photo of “first dog” Lucy Brown on his website.

“When she is not out exploring the family ranch in Colusa County with the governor and first lady, Lucy can be found guarding the office and herding staff at the state Capitol,” according to her bio.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.

ASSEMBLY BILL 2605

SECTION 1. Section 2605 is added to the Family Code, to read:

2605. (a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.

(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.

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