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Pet Custody: Best Interests of the Pets?

Pet Custody in Arizona
Pet Custody in Arizona

Pet Custody: Best Interests of the Pets?

Custody of Fido or Patches
In the 21st Century, Arizonans, like most Americans, have spent more income on their pets than ever before.  When a marriage is being dissolved, custody of the furry, feathered or finned children can become a hot button issue, and there are no laws in Arizona that govern custody of a domestic pet.  However, there are some approaches that may help people solve these disputes.
Are Children Involved?
When parents with children seek to end their marriage, they have to take counseling classes on how divorce affects children.  At that point, it would be sensible to raise the issue of pets with the counselor.  They are objective, and could ask questions about:

  • The number of pets
  • The relationship each child has with the pet
  • Can the pet remain with the child, and make visits with the non-custodial parent?
  • Does preserving the child/pet bond meet the child’s best interests?

So, a dog, cat, pony, bird or other pet can play a role in determining legal decision making and parenting time.  There is no Arizona law that provides for a consideration of what is in the pet’s best interests. Although with the number of Arizona divorce lawyers commenting on pet related quarrels in divorce, some law may be enacted in the future.
No Children, just ‘Fur Kids”
The owner/pet relationship becomes more intense when a pet becomes a surrogate child.  Both spouses love the pet, and neither will make any concessions on who will get ‘custody’ of the pet.  The court is going to treat the pet as personal property, and examine:

  • Who paid for the pet?
  • Who was responsible for food, shelter, and medical bills?
  • Who cared for the pet?

The court could find the party who spent the greater amount of money and time on the animal has a greater ownership interest and award the pet to that party.  If the companion animal is pedigreed and has been shown at dog/cat shows, the dispute may shift to whether a valuable animal is separate property or community property.  If one spouse purchased the pet before the date of marriage, paid all the expenses, and kept any income derived from the pet separate, then the animal is separate property.  Of course, if the spouses shared expenses, care, and income, the pet could be determined community property.
Dog and Cat Fights
Dissolution, or separation is, more often than not, an adversarial proceeding, and both parties are bound to harbor a great deal of resentment.  Pets, like children, can become weapons used to hurt the other party.  If there are children wondering if they’ll have to give up their beloved pet, it is certainly in their best interest for the parents to submit this question to counseling or mediation. Get advice from a disinterested third party, since the court has no power to solve this problem.
Whether or not children are involved, divorcing couples ought to limit their anger and settle any disputes about domestic animals.  Unless the Arizona legislature enacts pet custody laws, it’s up to the parties to resolve this question and reach an agreement, or take their chances with a decision made by the court.

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