Deciding Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce

Many people regard their pets as members of the family. About 85 million American households own a dog or cat, and who gets the pets is frequently an issue in divorce cases. While some states have amended their laws to allow divorce courts to consider the best interests of the animal, Arizona and other states continue to treat pets as personal property. This means they are allocated to one of the spouses, the same as with any other indivisible asset.

This doesn’t mean your pet is denied consideration. Generally, divorce courts decide who should receive a pet based on a number of factors, including these:

  • Which spouse spends the most time with the pet?
  • Which spouse pays for a significant portion of the pet’s care and upkeep? Can this be proved with receipts or veterinarians’ invoices?
  • If there are children involved, how will the decision on pet custody impact their lives?
  • Are there any allegations of neglect or abuse regarding the pet?

The abuse factor may have particular relevance in divorce cases where there are allegations of domestic violence. According to the Humane Society, between 71 and 83 percent of women who enter domestic violence shelters say their alleged assailant also abused an animal in the home. If there is evidence that one spouse is cruel or abusive to the pet, this can influence the court’s decision.

In some cases, an individual going through a divorce may wonder if it’s possible to share custody of their pet with their ex-spouse. Judges typically won’t order such an arrangement, since it means granting joint ownership of the animal, which is difficult to enforce. However, if both parties feel strongly about continuing to have contact with their pets, it may be possible for them to reach an agreement outside of court. Some couples opt to use a mediator to help them work out an arrangement. It’s also a good idea to have a divorce lawyer present during the mediation to ensure your interests are given consideration.

At Clark & Schloss Family Law, P.C. in Scottsdale, Arizona, we help clients navigate the divorce process with professionalism and compassion. To speak to one of our experienced lawyers about your case, give us a call at 602-789-3497] or contact us online to schedule a consultation.