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Where will your family pet go after a divorce?

Over the course of your marriage, you and your ex probably collected several shared assets. So, when your marriage ends, part of the divorce process is determining which items you share and which items belong solely to you. And when it comes to family pets, it can be difficult to determine who gets to keep them.

 

Treating pets like children

Several states in recent years have passed laws that treat pet custody disputes like child custody disputes. California, Illinois and a handful of others acknowledge the unique nature of a family’s relationship with their pet. In cases where a divorcing couple can’t agree who gets to keep the pet, a judge will take into consideration the best interests of a pet in order to determine which party will receive primary custody.

Pets are separate property

While you may think of your pet as a member of your family, Arizona courts still consider pets as property. Because Arizona is a community property state, it means that both parties own all shared assets equally. However, pets do not fall under the community property category. Instead, Arizona considers pets as separate property, which doesn’t guarantee an equal share of assets under this category.

Factors that determine pet ownership

When you clearly owned your family pet before your marriage, determining ownership is a simple task. But deciding where the pet will go when you and your ex bought them together can be trickier. In this case, ownership of your pet as separate property is not so clear.

Although the law views pets as property, judges will often consider the relationship that your pet has with your entire family. They usually take a few factors into consideration when determining who gets to keep the pet.

Most commonly, pets will follow children. If the family pet serves to benefit your child’s best interests, whichever party has custody of the kids is also more likely to get the pet. Additionally, children already go through a significant life change when their parents separate. To separate them from a beloved pet might make the transition even more difficult.

Another factor that a judge might consider is which party has the financial means to take care of the family pet. For smaller pets like dogs or cats, this usually isn’t a huge determining factor. But for larger animals such as horses, it's crucial for the awarded party to be able to maintain care of the animal.

Working out an informal pet visitation schedule

Some couples are able to work out a shared pet agreement. Although this is not a formal process observed in court as it would be with a child custody case, creating a visitation schedule can ensure that you can keep the family pet in your life, even after a divorce.

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