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?
Arizona does not have a similar statute, but judges may employ a similar approach to consider the best interests of the pet. It is possible that the state could adopt a similar law to California’s in the future. While there hasn’t been a bill proposed yet, the state did amend A.R.S. § 1-215 to remove dogs from the definition of personal property in subsection 29. This indicates that the state is gradually changing its view of what pets are.
When would the Courts Agree to Hear Arguments Over Pet Custody?
Courts may or may not allow arguments over the custody of pets. It will depend on the particular judge who handles your case. Some judges are more sympathetic about pet ownership and will allow people to make arguments to keep their pets. Others will not allow people to argue about pet ownership unless the animal has a monetary value. For example, if a couple owns a purebred Bouvier des Flandres that has a value of $1,500, the court may allow the couple to argue about which party should receive the animal. The spouse who gets the dog would then need to give up another type of property that is also valued at $1,500 to the spouse who won’t get the pet.
Courts that do allow arguments over pet custody may employ a similar strategy to determine who to award the pet to as what is used to determine the custody of children. The judges may use their discretion when considering such things as which spouse purchased the pet, which spouse cares for the pet and other such things. However, there is not a law that requires courts to do this. Courts may be more willing to award the pet to a spouse who will also be getting primary residential custody of the children. They might do this because having the pet with the children may be in the child’s best interests.
How Should Pet Disputes be Handled?
Since there is no guarantee that a particular judge will even allow you to make arguments about why you are the better person for your dog or cat, it is best for you to try to work out an agreement with your spouse about your pet outside of court. If you are able to negotiate a property settlement agreement that clearly states that your pet will remain with you, it will become a part of your divorce decree and will be legally enforceable. By negotiating with your spouse, you may be able to come to an agreement that works for both of you. There are a few things to consider including in your pet agreement such as the following:
- Who will keep the pet
- How the expenses will be handled
- Whether the other person will be allowed to visit the pet
- Who will make medical decisions for the pet
When you are trying to work out an agreement, you should keep in mind whether you will have the financial resources to care for your pet on your own. The annual cost of owning a dog will depend on the food and toys that you buy, grooming costs, veterinary expenses, and others. According to a report in the Spruce Pets, the average annual cost of owning a dog can range from $1,400 to $4,300.
Things to Avoid During a Divorce
Divorce cases can involve a lot of emotional conflicts, and some spouses feel the need to try to get revenge. If you are battling your spouse over your dog or cat, it is a good idea to take a moment to consider why you are doing so. If you are simply arguing to keep a pet that your spouse purchased and that your spouse has always cared for out of spite, it is better for you to let the pet go. This can make it likelier that you will be able to reach agreements about other issues that are in dispute and can help your divorce case to proceed in a more amicable manner.
Pets in prenuptial agreements
Pets can be included in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. These are contracts that couples can enter into before or after they get married to determine the rights that each spouse will have to different types of property. If these agreements are drafted correctly, they can be enforceable in a divorce.
Contact Cantor Law Group
Pets have a special role in many people’s lives. It is understandable that they can become a source of contention when couples get divorced. If you are getting divorced and are having a dispute about who will get your pet, an experienced family law attorney at Cantor Law Group might be able to help. Contact us today to Schedule a Consultation by calling 602.254.8880 or filling out our Online Contact Form below.