Divorce: Who get Custody of the Family Pets?

In the past few years, divorce courts have heard custody disputes about the family pets.  Perhaps you have a traditional family, with children and a pet, or you never had children, but owned a dog, cat, or birds.  It can cause a great deal of anger, and sorrow if you have not prepared for this situation.  You need to know the law, and how the law may view this matter.

Traditional View

Most jurisdictions, including Arizona, viewed pets as property.  Since Arizona is a community property jurisdiction, the value of the pet, if any (pedigree or show animal) would form part of the marital estate, unless it was clearly separate property:

§  One spouse purchased the animal, was responsible for food, medical and all related expenses

§  Spouse spent most of their time with the animal

Now, courts are facing the issue of companion animal custody disputes.  How are courts going to view your case, and what is the best way to prepare.

Get Organized

If you want custody, get all the paperwork.  Your lawyer will want evidence to give the court, showing that you have a bond with the pet, that you were the primary caregiver, and that the pet will have a better quality of life with you.  The following items will help build your case:

§  Vet bills and receipts, showing you brought the animal to the vet, were responsible for all or most of the expenses.

§  Receipts from pet stores—food and other expenses

§  Witnesses: neighbors who will testify they saw you walking the dog, or that you spent more time with the cat

§  Your work schedule/location.  You have more time to devote to the pet, and do not work too far from home.  You are in a better situation to care for the animal

§  Photographs, videos, and social media.  It’s evidence showing that you spent more time with your pet—that you two have a strong bond.  Just be careful of any posts, tweets, complaining about your dog or cat.  It could be used against you.

Points to Consider

You should try to settle this matter outside court.  The stress will affect you, your former spouse and your beloved pet.  Your pet can’t understand why the household is being broken up, and a prolonged court battle isn’t in their interests or yours.  As responsible owners, you and your ex ought to settle this as soon as possible.

Many people treat their pets as children, and family law judges are following this trend by looking at the best interests of the pets.  You and your spouse ought to sit down, either with or without your lawyers, and negotiate a settlement for the pet’s custody.  As long as you are quarreling, neither of you can focus on the future, because you’ll be stuck in the past.  It’s in everybody’s best interests to reach an agreement rather than accept a judicial ruling.

Remember your family pet when you are planning your divorce.