Arizona Pet Disputes In Family Law

Arizona Pet Disputes In Family Law

Families come in all different forms, and some people choose to adopt fur babies rather than have their own. Even if you love your pets like children, that isn’t necessarily how they will be treated under the law if you get divorced from your spouse. Having pets won’t trigger a custody battle that may apply if you share minor children with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. But your pets could still be a point of contention that drags out your divorce and, in turn, increases legal costs. You can prepare yourself for your legal matter with knowledge of Arizona divorce laws and guidance from a skilled family law attorney. No matter the legal issues relevant to your case, our legal team is here to provide counsel and representation. To learn more with your free consultation, call 602-609-7000

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Pets As Property In Arizona Family Law

As much as we love our pets, they are viewed as property, akin to furniture, vehicles, clothing, etc. rather than children. This means that their fate will be decided in property division rather than a custody matter. Two spouses can make an agreement to divide their property in any way they choose. This might be placing one pet with one spouse and another pet with the other spouse. It might be better in your situation to avoid splitting up the pets and keep them in one household. The spouses can also agree to a custody-like situation where the pet(s) spend a certain amount of time with each spouse and switch off. However, a judge is unlikely to bind two divorcing spouses together in this type of legal arrangement at trial. The spouses will need to divide property division through a consent decree if they wish to split custody of their pets after dissolving the marriage. 

Per A.R.S. § 25-211, Arizona uses community property law to divide marital property. In a community property state, almost all property acquired by either spouse during a marriage belongs to each spouse equally. There are exceptions for property acquired by gift, devise, or descent, or acquired after a petition for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment is filed and that petition results in a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment. Therefore, any pets acquired while the spouses are married are technically part of the community estate, even if the pet is considered to be one spouse’s pet specifically. A pet acquired before the marriage or after a petition has been filed will belong to the spouse who adopted it. 

Some states, like California and Illinois, have laws regarding the distribution of shared pets in a divorce. Arizona has not joined the states that have statutes for community property division of pets yet. In these states, the judge can analyze a number of factors when determining pet custody in a dissolution of marriage. Even though a pet would technically be community property, the judge can look to which spouse actually paid for and adopted the pet. Feeding the pet and buying its food and toys can be relevant to which spouse should continue caring for the pet. If one spouse walks the pet and takes it to veterinary appointments, this could also be relevant to the judge’s decision. If one spouse has been accused or convicted of animal abuse, the judge is more likely to grant the pet(s) to the other spouse. These factors can help point a judge in the right direction, but are far different from the factors affecting a child’s best interest as described by A.R.S. § 25-403

Pet Support

As pet custody laws don’t exist in Arizona yet, neither do laws regarding the financial support of shared pets after a divorce. Spouses can make their own agreement for pet support just like they might with pet visitation or shared pet custody. However, pet support isn’t an issue that family law judges are equipped to determine at trial. Spouses that adopt a pet together during marriage may want to have a conversation, although uncomfortable, about these types of issues in case of a breakup. 

Pets In Property Division

If you picked up your pet from the local animal rescue, its emotional value is probably much higher than its financial value. But many pets are expensive and can be considered a substantial asset that should be split in property division. This might apply if a pet is from a specialized breeder, competes in shows, or even has a social media career. Here, the spouse who doesn’t get to keep the pet might need to be compensated during property division, whether that’s keeping an extra item of furniture, a vehicle acquired during the marriage, etc. This asset should be similar in value to the market value of the pet. That spouse can also be compensated with cash. 

Factors To Consider When Deciding Who Gets The Pets

Your instinct may be to fight to keep your pet, but the pet’s needs should be considered in this type of situation as well. Transitioning between households can be stressful for a pet and ultimately detrimental to their health. Showing your pet love might come in the form of recognizing that your post-divorce household is an unfavorable living situation for your pet. Some of the factors that could influence a pet’s well-being after a divorce include:

  • If the pet will receive sufficient care and attention in each individual household
  • If each spouse’s new housing situation/landlord allows pets
  • If the pet is bonded to a child or children and one spouse will have primary physical custody
  • Other pets in new households, e.g., if one spouse rents a room in an apartment with a roommate who has multiple cats
  • Each spouse’s work schedule and conflicts with the pet’s care schedule
  • If the spouses share multiple pets who are bonded with each other
  • Whether the pet is in good enough health to live in each spouse’s new household, e.g., a spouse’s new hardwood floors aggravate a dog’s hip dysplasia or it can’t get up a new entry staircase
  • If one spouse plans to move out of state, whether that pet breed is legal there (as well as potential allergens and environmental issues)
  • Whether each spouse can afford to take care of the pet after the divorce on a single income

Determine Your Rights As a Spouse & Address Specialized Issues With Our Phoenix Divorce Legal Team

As you can see, splitting pets between spouses in an Arizona divorce isn’t as simple as standing a certain length apart and letting the pet choose who will take care of it. Your pet could be viewed as a way to get back at you by a vindictive ex, or your ex may simply want to keep your pet(s) as much as you do. If you are concerned about the distribution of your pets in an upcoming divorce in Maricopa County, you should consider retaining an established law firm to represent you in the matter. Our experienced divorce attorneys are passionate about delivering our clients positive results from negative situations. Hiring Phoenix Divorce Attorneys can help ease the burden of a stressful divorce and any other family law matter you may be facing. For your free consultation with a skilled divorce lawyer, call 602-609-7000

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