Arizona Pet Custody Laws: Who Gets the Pet During a Divorce?

Executive Summary

  • Although pets have an immeasurable emotional value, they are legally viewed as community property, like a couch or a television, instead of a child.
  • Arizona judges consider certain factors when determining pet custody, such as the well-being of involved children and who the pet’s primary caregiver was.
  • Sometimes, divorcing spouses can use mediation, collaborative law and arbitration to reach a satisfactory agreement without going through an official lawsuit.
  • To minimize cost and promote the pet’s well-being, it is best to draw up a pet custody agreement outside the courtroom. Still, if there is a disagreement, JacksonWhite Law can help you achieve the best possible outcome.

How Pet Custody Works After a Divorce in Arizona

Pets are a crucial part of our culture—they bring many families joy. According to the 2023–2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 66 percent of all households in America have a pet, accounting for roughly 87 million families in total. So, it is easy to see why the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has reported a substantial increase in pet custody disputes during divorce cases.

In most states, including Arizona, pets are legally viewed as property. Therefore, after a divorce, custody of a pet is handled similarly to ownership of a couch or television rather than the guardianship of a child. Still, pets are a precious part of everyday life and something that many divorcing couples include in their separation talks. If you and your current partner have a pet and are contemplating a divorce in Arizona, knowing how pet custody works is vital to achieving the best possible outcome.

Pet Custody Laws

If a pet was purchased before marriage, the original owner will likely get to keep it. However, under A.R.S. 25-211, Arizona is a community property state, meaning that any property acquired during the marriage is considered community property. Pets purchased during a marriage are viewed the same as any other type of shared property. That means they are divided upon dissolution of marriage, along with other marital property like furniture.

Often, divorcing spouses can decide how they want to handle pet custody amongst themselves, but if there is a disagreement, a trial judge may make the final determination. The judge can declare the pet as property belonging to one spouse or the other. While pets are not given the same legal attention as children, the court may consider the following factors:

  • The well-being of children – If the divorcing couple shares children, the pet may be awarded to the spouse with the most visitation rights to facilitate their relationship with the pet.
  • The pet’s primary caregiver—The judge may ask who predominantly paid for the pet’s food and veterinary visits or took care of the pet the most, giving it food, exercise and attention. In addition to looking at past situations, the judge may consider who can care for the pet best going forward, too.
  • Special care requirements – If the pet is old or ill, it may be better off in a home without stairs or obstacles. It may also need an owner who will be around more often to provide medication.
  • Domestic violence history – A judge may also consider histories of domestic abuse, putting the pet with whichever spouse is less likely to cause it physical harm.

Although Arizona judges may consider several factors, they are not entirely concerned with what is in the pet’s best interest—they are supposed to view shared pets as community property. Therefore, it is best for divorcing spouses to resolve pet custody disputes independently before seeking mediation from a trial judge.

You should consult a trusted lawyer to guide you through the mediation process. A qualified attorney can help you understand property division laws following a divorce.

Strategies For Resolving Pet Custody Disputes

Unfortunately, the court may not consider your pet’s overall situation, and in some cases, the pet may be removed from both spouses if a solution cannot be reached. So, you should try working with your spouse outside of court to create an ownership plan that works for both of you and any children you share.

Craft an Official Agreement

You can work up a pet agreement that is separate from your divorce proceedings.

The agreement can include anything related to the ownership of the pet, including:

  • Who will retain ownership of the pet
  • Visitation rights, if necessary
  • Financial responsibility of spouses
  • Medical decisions, such as surgery or euthanasia

This type of agreement can give you a level of flexibility you would likely not get in court. For instance, you can arrange a plan that allows the pet to keep the same schedule as your children. Alternatively, you may opt for a different routine that still maintains your pet’s security and well-being.

Assess Finances and Resources

It is also important to consider each spouse’s financial and personal resources after the divorce. For example, if one of the separating spouses is moving into a new residence that does not allow pets, the pet may be better off with the other person.

The American Pet Products Association 2023-2024 survey reveals that the basic annual expenses for a dog can top $1,077, while those for a cat can exceed $727. So, the financial responsibility of owning a pet is substantial, and unexpected veterinary visits can quickly become a financial burden. This can also be addressed in a mutual pet ownership agreement.

Implement an Unbiased Third Party

If you and your spouse cannot agree on pet ownership issues by yourself, you can use the objective, third-party services of divorce mediation, which can offer clarity and cooperation to your situation.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is a relatively new form of alternative dispute resolution that is becoming more common in divorce and family law situations. This process involves each party hiring a lawyer and other optional resources like divorce coaches and financial experts. The entire group will unite and negotiate in an attempt to come to an amicable agreement without enacting a lawsuit.


Arbitration is a confidential procedure in which both parties consensually select an unbiased arbitrator to decide on their dispute. This process serves as an alternative to a typical court hearing, providing more flexibility and allowing more factors to be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, the arbitral tribunal’s final decision is binding like a trial judge’s.

Although mediation is a step beyond reaching an agreement yourself, it can still be more advantageous than going to court to decide the outcome of your pet’s future. Collaboration and compromise are necessary to achieve the best possible outcome.

Why Seek Legal Assistance?

Divorce proceedings can be confusing and ineffective without the help of a qualified attorney. Attorneys know how to navigate the complex judicial world, helping explain important steps and translate legal jargon to make the process as smooth as possible.

When facing pet custody disputes during divorce proceedings, an attorney can help devise agreements that prioritize the animal’s welfare while addressing each party’s concerns. With their legal expertise, attorneys can help craft detailed custody arrangements that cover concerns like visitation schedules, financial responsibilities and decision-making authority regarding the pet’s care.

Where Should I Seek Legal Assistance?

The legal framework for pet custody can vary by state, so if you live in Arizona, it is crucial to consult with trusted family law attorneys familiar with Arizona’s specific pet custody laws, like the attorneys at JacksonWhite Law. An experienced attorney can help their clients understand their rights and responsibilities regarding pet custody by offering insights into pertinent statutes and precedents.

With specialized knowledge of Arizona’s pet custody laws, a lawyer can devise a legal strategy customized to the case’s particulars, improving the chances of a successful resolution for all parties, including the cherished pet.

What Happens if Negotiations Fail Outside of Court?

Pet custody disputes can be settled via lawsuit if the parties to a divorce cannot agree on a settlement through negotiation. In Arizona, disagreements about pet custody are usually handled as part of the divorce process‘ property distribution procedure.

When deciding on custody arrangements, courts may take into account elements, including the pets’ well-being and the primary caregiver’s role. In court, a lawyer can speak on behalf of their client, proposing a custody plan that prioritizes you and your pet’s needs.

Get Help With Pet Custody in Arizona

Pet custody can be divisive for divorcing spouses. Legally, most states consider shared pets community property despite their emotional value. Upon divorce, pets are divided among the separating spouses, similar to furniture.

Pets are not given the same legal consideration as children, so divorcing couples should negotiate outside the courtroom to agree on a mutually beneficial custody plan that considers the pet’s quality of life. To prevent a lawsuit, unbiased third parties can facilitate this negotiation through arbitration and mediation. If the divorcing spouses cannot agree on a pet custody plan, a trial judge may make the final decision.

Getting legal advice and representation from experienced attorneys familiar with Arizona’s unique pet custody laws is a great way to achieve the best possible outcome. The family law team at JacksonWhite Law is dedicated to helping the people of Arizona with all of their family law needs, whether they need help reaching amicable divorce agreements through our mediation services or need representation in front of a trial judge.

Call the JacksonWhite Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.

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