Custody of the Family Pet in a Divorce in Arizona
The issue of custody of the family pet in a divorce in Arizona can derail even the most amicable Arizona divorce. Retirement accounts and real property may be divided without fuss, but when spouses get to the golden retrievers, it’s suddenly a war. According to a 2014 report in Forbes Magazine, 62 percent of U.S. households have pets. And according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, those pets are increasingly becoming the subjects of custody disputes in divorce. Most state courts don’t see them as family members, however.
Pets are personal property, referred to as community property in Arizona. As such, most divorce courts simply aren’t permitted by law to award custody of them or visitation terms, any more than the judge could award you shared time with that smart LED TV you bought right before you broke up. Your pet is an object, and in many cases, he’s one with negligible monetary value. He might be a rescue animal you saved from the pound for free, or you may have shelled out $1,000 to a breeder for a purebred. If that seems unacceptable to you, we have solutions to give you the greatest chance of being able to keep your pet in a divorce in Arizona.
The court will not be eager to decide who gets possession of a piece of property that cost nothing to acquire and has no real fair market value. That $1,000 golden retriever is another story, however. If you and your spouse own a valuable pet or pets, their value would be accounted for in terms of overall property distribution. If you get your pet, your spouse is typically entitled to some other asset of equal value, so if you keep the dog, you’ll have to give up that stamp collection. But what happens if you end up in divorce court and both of you want Fido? How does the judge determine who gets “custody?”
If you’re lucky and your case is assigned to a patient and compassionate judge, you might be able to make a case for keeping the dog. Despite the technical letter of the law, this can be similar to fighting for custody of children. You may try to establish that you have historically been the animal’s caregiver – Fido is just more comfortable with you and might even suffer a broken heart if he were to be separated from you.
If you work at home so the dog isn’t often left alone for long periods – but he would be with your ex – this might work in your favor. If you have children and Fido is the family dog, most judges would be inclined to put him in the same home with your kids. If you owned him before you married, this is pretty clear-cut – he’s your separate property.
The bottom line, however, is that you’re probably better off negotiating a pet settlement with your soon-to-be ex than asking the court to try to decide the issue. You can include terms for Fido in a property settlement agreement that can be incorporated into your divorce judgment, and the terms then become legally enforceable. You can even set a visitation schedule for the dog in your settlement agreement.
You just can’t ask the judge to order a visitation schedule for Fido. It’s best for humans and animals alike to reach a pet agreement on their own. You do have one other option, if your spouse is willing to agree to attend binding arbitration on the issue you can meet with an arbitrator who will allow each spouse to present evidence on a custody arrangement for the pet and the arbitrator’s decision is binding on both spouses and may be entered as an order of the court, which would require a judge to enforce that court-ordered custody arrangement for a pet. Our founder, Chris Hildebrand, provides arbitration and mediation services in Arizona divorce cases.
Make sure you hire an attorney who is compassionate and understands the importance of your pet to you. Some Arizona divorce attorneys get upset when a client indicates how important it is to him or her to be awarded the family pet in their Arizona divorce. The divorce attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC understand how important it is to our clients to ensure they are awarded the family pet and will work hard to ensure our clients retain ownership of their pets in a divorce in Arizona.