Couples who decide to move toward divorce have a multitude of decisions to make. They must determine how to divide their assets, as well as whether any type of spousal support or child support should be factored into the final divorce decree. For those in Arizona who are pet owners, deciding where the family dog or cat should live can also be a significant part of splitting up. Unfortunately, this is a family law matter that most courts are unwilling to address.
There are no laws in place that dictate how pets should be handled during a divorce. While pet owners may feel that their animals are akin to children, the law does not approach the issue in the same manner. If a court is willing to hear arguments on the matter at all, it is likely under the premise that pets are simply another form of property, without their own inherent rights.
This means that the court's determination could be based on who paid for a pet and who provided the funding for food and veterinary care. That approach ignores which partner may be better able or more willing to provide a high standard of care for the animal, such as regular walks or plenty of playtime within the home. Very few pet owners want their pets' futures to be determined in the same way that a judge might decide who should get the wedding china or a piece of artwork.
The best approach for Arizona pet owners to take is to try and work through the issue on their own, outside of family law court. If both parties are willing to work out an agreement that places the needs of the pet above their own desires, a solution can be reached. Many judges will refuse to address the topic at all, and even those who will hear arguments about pet "custody" will be tasked with making a decision about an animal that he or she will never meet, and with very little information upon which to base that decision.
Source: The Charlotte Observer, "In divorce, who gets to keep the family dog?", Ben Steverman, May 1, 2016