I am surprised it hadn't happened before, but I'm certainly not surprised that it now appears to have finally happened in California: as reported a few days ago by California lawyer John Harding in his post California Divorce Blawg: Power To The Pets, Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law, on September 11, 2007, a California statute that gives pets a status somewhat similar to that of human beings in some cases, by specifically providing for their inclusion in protection orders, authorizing orders providing for their exclusive care by one party and prohibiting any abuse of the animals themselves. Here in New England, Maine last year became the first state in the nation to provide for the inclusion of pets in restraining orders. At least a few other states, including New York, Vermont and Connecticut, have similar new laws pending or recently enacted. Connecticut's new law just went into effect on October 1.
The California Divorce Blawg posted a link to the new California law, at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/sen/sb_0351-0400/sb_353_bill_20070911_chaptered.html and there is some pretty interesting information here on the legislative history of this bill, including reference to recent studies supposedly showing a correlation between domestic violence (concerning human beings) and the abuse of animals.
In my cases in Massachusetts I have been a part of wide-ranging disputes over pets. Sometimes judges have made temporary orders regarding pets in family court proceedings, and even in restraining orders, despite the lack of any such law to guide them. Most judges, however, have been reluctant to deviate from the historic common law treatment of animals/pets as chattel, and so the fate of pets is often not determined in divorce cases until the marital property division occurs, often at the very end of the process, at settlement or trial.
It shouldn't be long before animal lovers in other states prod their legislatures to follow the lead of Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and California.