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Pet Custody in Arizona

A beloved cat, dog, or any other animal can be as important as a child to some couples. So it can be heartbreaking to leave a pet with an ex spouse if the couple gets divorced. It should be noted that pets are not considered similar to children under Arizona law, even though they may feel that way.  By law, pets are property.  However, divorcing couples can include pet care concerns in the legal proceedings to give them some consideration under the law.

Legally speaking, pets fall under the category of personal property that can be divided during divorce. But, if the animal in question is separately owned by one of the spouses, then that is an asset that cannot be divided. In other words, the other spouse cannot claim ownership. However, Arizona’s pet custody cases are increasingly being contested because most couples raise animals together, like children.

Determining Pet Ownership During Divorce

There are several factors the court will consider when determining who owns the pet. If the pet was owned by one spouse before the marriage, then ownership is clear, the premarital assets of either spouse remain that way after divorce.  Some consumers have a deep misconception in Arizona that if anyone owns an animal for 6 consecutive days then that person becomes the lawful owner of the animal.  This so-called “6-day rule” is codified at Arizona Revised Statutes Section 11-1001(10). However, the rule exists for animal control purposes, and does not determine final ownership.  Put another way, the 6-day rule has little or nothing to do with which spouse will exit a marriage with the family pet.

Getting Primary Pet Custody

The court will look at evidence to support claims of ownership. What matters here is who the primary caretaker of the animal. If one spouse trained the dog, is responsible for feeding the dog and taking it on daily walks, then that spouse would be the primary caretaker of the animal. When fighting for animal custody, demonstrate how much time and effort you dedicate to taking care of the pet. That’s what matters the most when it comes to ownership.  Judges are like anyone else—they are fair and equitable and should award the pet to the spouse who has that pet’s best interests in mind.

Additionally, the court will consider children’s wellbeing if any pets are involved. If the pet is important for the psychological well-being of the children, then the pet will likely go to the spouse that has primary custody of the children. It happens in most cases, though not all.  Family law litigation, by definition, is unpredictable.

Keep in mind that the court will also consider the financial situation of the spouses when granting pet ownership. If the animal in question requires significant resources to take care of, like a horse, then the spouse will need to demonstrate financial stability to own the animal post-Decree.

Sharing Pet Custody

If the court cannot determine just one owner, or if the separating spouses are willing, pet custody can be shared. In this scenario, the divorcing couple could agree on a pet visitation schedule. A divorce lawyer in Scottsdale can help you draft a reasonable pet parenting schedule.

This “pet parenting time” plans are not the same as child parenting time, which are actively reviewed by the court. But if one spouse neglects the rules in the schedule, such as failing to show up for dog walking time, then that can be used as evidence in court in an ownership battle.

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