Divorcing with Pets in Arizona

Who gets the pets in a divorce?

Most people who are getting divorced in Arizona, understand that going from “I Do” to “I’m done” involves difficult decisions. At a minimum, that requires dividing the couple’s assets and deciding if one spouse will pay alimony (or spousal support) to the other. If there are children, issues like child custody, visitation, and support must be worked out or ordered by the court if the parties can’t agree.

So, what happens to the family pets?

They are beloved family members that both spouses are often willing to fight for. But unlike kids, who our placed in the custody of one or both parents based on what’s in the best interest of the children, pets have long been considered to be personal property in Arizona and most states.  As such, neither spouse is awarded “custody” of pets. Rather, Fido gets divided up along with the Instapot and lawnmower.

Arizona is one of the few community property states in the country. While it seems cold to classify a living, loving family pet the same way as a sofa, Phoenix property division attorneys advise couples with pets that unless the pet qualifies as the separate property of one spouse, it will be considered as community property of the couple.

In general, separate property is something acquired before marriage buy one partner and generally belongs to that spouse after a divorce. However, there’s other property acquired during the marriage that may be classified as separate property, including gifts received by and intended for only one spouse, gifts given by one spouse to the other before or during the marriage, and inheritances received buy one spouse during the marriage, to name a few examples. Depending on the particular circumstances, an argument may be made that a pet falls into one of these separate property classifications.

Interestingly, there is a movement happening in some states that is turning the “pets are personal property” standard on its ear. Since 2017, three states, including Illinois, Alaska, and California have passed bills empowering judges “to consider the well-being of the animal instead of the desires of the human owners – and to assign a joint custody schedule that’s in the critters best interest”. In some cases, the family pets shuffle back-and-forth between the spouses’ households along with the child custody schedule. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit.

If you are considering a divorce or have any questions regarding any family law matter, Cohen Family Law can help you. Contact the office today to schedule a free consultation.

From our office in Phoenix, we have been totally focused on helping clients throughout Arizona navigate their family law issues since 1982.