According to the 2013–2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 47 percent of households in America have at least one dog, and 46 percent have at least one cat. Altogether, nearly 70 percent of all households own a four-legged friend.
With millions of households owning pets, it’s no wonder that the issue of pets and divorce is a trending topic. In all states, including Arizona, pets are legally viewed as property – more like a couch or television than a child.
As a practical matter, however, pets are a precious part of everyday life, and something that many divorcing couples include in their separation talks. So when it comes to pets and divorce in Arizona, how does it work?
Pets as Property
In Arizona, a community property state, pets are viewed the same as any other type of property. That means that they are divided upon dissolution of marriage, along with other marital property, and the matter rarely becomes more complicated than that.
This means that a judge can order the pet as property belonging to one spouse or the other. While pets aren’t given the same legal attention as children, the court may take into consideration the well-being of children, if involved, as well as the pet.
In this case, the pet may be awarded to the spouse who has the greatest amount of visitation rights with the children.
Creating a Mutual Agreement
However, putting the ownership of your pet in the hands of the court may not be as beneficial as you and your spouse solving the problem independently. The court may not take into consideration the overall situation of your pet, and in some cases, the pet may be removed from both spouses if a solution can’t be reached.
By working with your spouse outside of court, you may be in a better position to create an ownership plan that works for you, your spouse and your children. You can work up a pet agreement that’s separate from your divorce proceedings.
The agreement can include anything related to the ownership of the pet, including:
- Who will retain ownership of the dog
- Visitation rights, if necessary
- Financial responsibility of spouses
- Medical decisions, such as surgery or euthanasia
This type of agreement can give you flexibility that you won’t get in court. You may be able to arrange a plan that allows the pet to keep the same schedule as your children, for instance. Or you may opt for a different routine that still maintains your dog’s security and wellbeing.
It’s also important to consider the financial and personal resources of each spouse after the divorce. If one spouse is moving into a new residence that can’t have dogs, for example, then the pet may be better off with the other spouse.
The American Pet Products Association’s latest survey reveals that the basic annual expenses for a dog can top $1,600, while those for a cat can exceed $1,200. So the financial responsibility of a pet is not small, and with medical care, can easily become a financial burden. This, too, can be addressed in a mutual pet ownership agreement.
Deciding Pet Ownership with Mediation
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.
Mediation, while a step beyond reaching an agreement yourself, can still be more advantageous than going to court to decide the outcome of your pet’s future.
Getting Help with Divorce and Pet Ownership
If you have questions about your pets during the divorce process, contact the family law team at JacksonWhite Law. Each year, we work with families across the state and can present you with legal solutions that keep your family’s best interests in mind.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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