Pets in a Divorce

While child custody can become a contentious issue in a divorce, determining the future of family pets can also be emotionally challenging. At Cohen Family Law, our practice is dedicated to helping families in Arizona find amicable solutions to these challenges. If you and your soon to be ex are involved in a dispute over the family dog, cat, horse or any other pet in a divorce, we can guide you to a decision that works for the entire family, including your faithful companion.

How is property divided in an Arizona divorce?

Unlike most states, Arizona is a community property state. Any property that is acquired during the marriage is considered community property that is to be divided equally between the spouses. On the other hand, property acquired before the marriage by either spouse is considered separate and belongs to the spouse who acquired it. The court determines the value of community property as a whole and divides it between the spouses. Ultimately, the goal is for each spouse to own approximately half of the community property; this does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split, however.

How are pets treated in a divorce?

Under Arizona law, pets are considered personal property. As such, a family pet may be either separate property or marital property. If the animal was acquired during the course of the marriage, it is generally considered marital property that must be divided between the spouses. Unlike a couch or a television set, however, a pet is living property. In addition, most pets have little significant market value, with the exception of show dogs and race horses. 

When it comes to the family dog, cat or bird, its intrinsic value is determined by the relationship and affinity each family member has for the pet. While the court may find that the pet belongs to one spouse or the other, the court may also consider the well-being of any children, as well as the pet, in which case the pet may be awarded to the spouse who has primary custody of the children. 

Custody Agreements with Pets in a Divorce

Depending on the circumstances, sharing possession of a pet may be a reasonable alternative for some families. Since there are no legal criteria for pet custody in an Arizona divorce, the spouses have the option to craft a pet custody plan based on visitation and shared custody principles. As an example, the pet may spend weekdays with one party and weekends with the other, and the visitation schedule can be negotiated as part of the divorce settlement. 

Because one spouse will likely be leaving the family home, however, such an arrangement may not be workable, such as when the provisions of a lease prohibit pets. This is why it is important to carefully consider the accommodations of the family pet with the help of an experienced Arizona divorce attorney. 

Deciding Pet Custody in an Arizona Divorce Through Mediation

If the spouses cannot agree on pet ownership by themselves, divorce mediation is an alternative way of reaching an amicable solution. This process is often used to resolve the key issues of divorce so that a lengthy court battle can be avoided. Moreover, before the court will grant a divorce involving minor children, the parties are required to go through the mediation process to arrive at a parenting plan. 

In divorce mediation, the parties work with a neutral third party who is tasked with guiding them to an agreement. In regard to a pet, the parties should consider matters such as:

  • Who was the primary caretaker of the family pet during the marriage?
  • Where will each spouse reside after the divorce?
  • Who is better-equipped to care for the pet (e.g. feeding, grooming, walking)?
  • Who will pay for the pet’s expenses, including veterinary care?
  • Is keeping the pet at the marital residence important to the children’s well-being?
  • How will the pet adjust to new living conditions?

Our lead attorney, Mitchell E. Cohen regularly guides clients through the mediation process. When it comes to the future of your family pet, as well as other key divorce issues that must be resolved, mediation is less stressful and more cost-effective than divorce litigation. 

If Your Divorce Involves Pets, Contact an Experienced Arizona Family Law Attorney

At Cohen Family Law, we are keenly aware that pets are more than mere animals, they’re cherished members of our families. Unfortunately, disputes over pets are not uncommon in divorce. Even worse is when the parties cannot make arrangements for the family pet after a divorce and a beloved dog or cat is abandoned and ends up in an animal shelter. 

Although some states (e.g. Alaska, California and Illinois) have adopted laws that allow judges to consider the well-being of the animal and determine a custody arrangement that is in the pet’s best interest, pets are still considered community property in Arizona. For this reason, the best way to protect your rights, and ensure the well-being of your family pet, is to consult an experienced family law attorney. Please contact our office today to learn how we can help.

Cohen Family Law services clients with their divorce and pets needs throughout the Phoenix, Arizona area including Anthem, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Laveen, Mesa, Peoria, Scottsdale, Surprise, and Tempe.