Most people would agree that they view their pets as members of their families. They may treat their dogs as if they are children in a divorce. People purchase toys for their dogs, send them to obedience school, and use a similar sing-songy tone of voice when they speak to the dogs that they use with small children. When people divorce, it is little wonder that they may have bitter disputes over who will get their cats or dogs. Battles over pets in divorce cases can become ugly, and some couples will spend thousands of dollars in fees to try to win custody of their pets. While people might view their pets as their children, the law treats them differently. Here is what you should know about how pets are treated in divorce cases.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost 57% of U.S. households own pets. Approximately 38% of people who own pets own at least one dog, and 25% own cats. According to a survey by the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, pet custody disputes are increasing. In that survey, the AAML found that cases in which pet custody disputes were allowed had increased by 22% over the preceding five years. Of the disputes, 88% involved disputes over dogs while 5% involved disputes over cats. Overall, 27% of the lawyers said that they had noticed an increase in the number of clients who had disputes over their pets.
How are Pets Viewed by Arizona Courts?
Under A.R.S. § 25-211, all of the property that a couple accumulates during a marriage is considered to be the community property of both spouses. Historically, pets have been viewed as a type of personal property and have simply been awarded to one spouse or another just like other types of property such as cars, furniture, art collections, and etc. Some courts will not allow people to argue about pet custody since the judges view the pets as just another type of property. In cases in which the pets were acquired for very little money, the judges may be unwilling to entertain arguments about who will get them.
This is changing, however. More courts are allowing arguments about the custody of pets in recognition of the importance that they have in people’s lives. In three states, including California, Illinois, and Alaska, there are now laws in place that provide factors for courts to consider in contested pet disputes in divorces. Arizona does not have such a law, however, which means that not all judges will agree to hear arguments about the custody of pets. California’s law outlines a number of factors that judges can consider when determining who will get the pets, including the following:
- Which person feeds the pet?
- Which person paid for or adopted the pet?
- Which person pays for the pet’s food and toys?
- Which person walks the pet?
- Which person takes the pet to see the veterinarian?
- Which person spends more time with the pet?
- Whether there have been allegations of animal abuse against either spouse?