It’s absolutely essential to many people. They can’t imagine a future without their pets. Worse, they may fear that their divorcing spouse would not be as committed to their care as they themselves would be. The feelings of the children are engaged.
How are pets handled in a divorce?
A few states have passed laws that set up custodial arrangements for pets, much as are available for children. They treat pet custody like child custody and try to resolve the question in the pet’s best interest.
Things work a bit more traditionally in Arizona. Here, the law treats pets as property. During property division, Arizona courts first determine if a particular item belongs solely to one spouse. If it does, that property remains that spouse’s sole property.
The remaining property is generally considered the couple’s community property. Courts then divide the community property “equitably.” This more or less means “fairly.’
If you brought the pet to the marriage, it could be classified as your sole property, which is not divisible. However, in most cases pets are part of the community property, which is divided in divorce.
Working with your lawyer, you should come up with an argument for why the pets should be given to you. For example, the court might consider issues such as;
- Who initially acquired the pet
- Who paid for the pet’s food, care and veterinary care
- Who spent the most time with the pet
- What is in the best interest of the pet and the family
Do I have to accept the court’s decision?
If you take your divorce to trial, you will have to abide by whatever the court decides. However, there are opportunities to avoid having a court decide for you:
- A prenuptial or marital agreement: If you are not married yet or are not getting a divorce, you can make an agreement with your fiancé(e) or spouse. These are generally enforceable in Arizona.
- A negotiated settlement: As always, you can work with your divorcing spouse to negotiate a divorce settlement. As long as your settlement complies with Arizona law, you do not have to go to trial. You and your divorcing spouse can negotiate a resolution to the disposition of your pets.
If you are interested in deciding pet custody but are having difficulty agreeing with your divorcing spouse, talk to your divorce attorney. There may be options to help you with a resolution.