For many of us, our pets have become part of our families. We treat them, pamper them, dress them up, and take pictures of them to share with family and friends. Though some Arizonans may treat their pets like a child, the law treats them quite differently. Traditionally, in a divorce the law has viewed pets as property, meaning that they are subject to the principals of property division. Thus, if you purchased or adopted your pet before your marriage, then you may get the pet through the property division process as it will likely be deemed separate property rather than community.
If a pet was acquired after marriage, though, it may be helpful to try to settle the matter outside of court. Skillful negotiations can usually bring these matters to a fair conclusion, but not always. Sometimes emotions take hold and the matter has to be litigated in court. When this occurs, it may be helpful to provide proof that you were the pet’s primary caregiver. This means providing receipts from veterinarian visits, toy purchases, and food purchases.
Though pets are technically viewed as property, the matter may be slowly shifting to somewhat mimic that of child custody. Though pets and children cannot be placed on the same footing and will not be treated by a court as such, there is some merit in addressing what is in the best interest of the pet. For example, if one spouse is abusive towards the pet while the other is loving towards the pet, then it might be prudent to award custody to the non-abusive spouse.
Pet custody cases are growing as more Arizonans find themselves lovingly attached at a time of marriage dissolution. When this happens, it might be beneficial to discuss the matter with an experienced Tucson family law attorney who may be able to help you reach a resolution that is fair for the circumstances.
Source: Animal Legal Defense Fund, “What to do if you are involved in a custody battle over your companion animal,” accessed on March 13, 2015