Who Keeps the Dog in a Divorce?

a man sitting on a grass field with his dog

Divorcing couples often disagree about child custody, but disputes about who keeps the dog in a divorce are also common. Because family members all bond with their pets, determining the fate of the family dog is never easy. That’s where Cohen Family Law comes in.

We help clients in Arizona navigate divorce and other complex family law issues. Determining who gets the dog is much different than deciding on legal decision-making and parenting time. After all, it can be impractical to consider the best interests of the family pet. 

If you are wondering what happens to your dog when you divorce, you can trust us to help you make the best decisions for your family and your faithful companion. Contact our Phoenix office today to schedule a consultation.  

Dividing Marital Property in Arizona

Arizona is a community property state. That means property acquired during the marriage is considered community property that must be divided equally between the parties. On the other hand, separate property is property acquired before the marriage. 

When dividing marital property, the court determines the value of community property and divides it between the spouses. The desired goal is for each party to come away from the marriage owning approximately half of the community property. However, this does not necessarily mean an equal 50/50 split. 

Dogs Are Considered Personal Property in Arizona

Because pets are considered personal property under state law, the family dog may be either separate or marital property. If the dog belonged to one spouse before the marriage, the pet is that party’s property.   

A dog acquired during the marriage is considered marital property; however, a pet is a living being and not the same as a house or other property. You can’t split a dog in half. Also, most dogs have little significant market value, except for show dogs.

The value of a dog is a matter of each family member’s relationship with the pet. The court may determine that the dog belongs to one party,  but it will also consider the children’s and the dog’s well-being. The court may ultimately award the dog to the spouse with primary custody of the children. 

Creating a Dog Custody Agreement for your Divorce

Sharing the dog after a divorce may be the best alternative for some families. Because there are no legal criteria for pet custody, the parties may be able to agree on a dog custody plan based on visitation and shared custody principles. For example, the dog may spend weekdays with one party and weekends with the other, and the visitation schedule can be part of the divorce settlement.

But one spouse will likely be leaving the family home, so that arrangement may not be workable, such as when a lease prohibits pets. The best way to find reasonable accommodations for the family dog is to work with an experienced Arizona divorce lawyer.  

Consider Mediation in your Divorce

If the parties cannot agree, mediation is an alternative way of solving who keeps the dog in a divorce. Mediation can help to resolve all the divorce issues and avoid a lengthy court battle. Before the court approves a divorce involving minor children, the parties must pursue the mediation process to agree on a parenting plan. 

There are several factors to consider about the family dog in divorce mediation, such as:

  • Who was the dog’s primary caretaker during the marriage?
  • Where will each party reside after the divorce?
  • Who can better care for the dog (e.g., feeding, grooming, walking)?
  • Who will cover the dog’s expenses, including veterinary care?
  • Is keeping the dog at the marital residence better for the children?
  • How will the dog adapt to new living conditions?

At Cohen Family Law, we regularly guide clients through the mediation process, which is less stressful and more cost-effective than going to court and can help resolve who keeps the dog. 

If You Have Questions About Pets in a Divorce, Contact Cohen Family Law

Dogs and other pets are more than animals; they are also cherished members of our families. Unfortunately, disputes about dog custody are common. A beloved dog may even be placed in an animal shelter when the parties cannot make arrangements.

Some states have adopted laws that allow judges to determine a custody arrangement that is in the dog’s best interests. But pets are still considered community property in Arizona. So, the best way to protect your rights and the well-being of your family dog is to consult an experienced divorce lawyer. Contact our office today to learn how we can help.