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What happens to the family pet in a divorce or separation?

A divorce is the unraveling of a shared life — a life that may have involved a beloved family pet. Many people view their pets as members of their family, and those going through a divorce or separation may have to make heartbreaking decisions about who will be the pet’s primary caretaker.

If you’re getting divorced in Arizona and are concerned about your pet, you need the guidance of a compassionate divorce lawyer in Tempe. Adriana Blanchette, founder of Blanchette Law PLLC, can provide you with the guidance and support you need to make the decision that’s best for you, your children, and your pet. Call (602) 881-1748 to schedule your consultation today.

divorce or separation what happens to the family pet

How Arizona courts view pets in divorce cases

Under Arizona law, pets are treated as personal property rather than family members. As a result, if the parties fail to reach an agreement, the court may include the pet in the division of property. The court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to order shared custody arrangements, so the property division order might not be what you want or what you feel is best for your pet.

“Community property” includes all property that was acquired during the marriage. These assets are split equally between both parties in divorce proceedings, while separate property (any property acquired before the marriage) remains with the original owner.

In most cases, the court will look at when the pet was brought into the family to determine whether it’s community or separate property. If the pet came into the family after the couple got married, it’s likely community property. On the other hand, if the pet was purchased or adopted before the marriage began, the court may consider it separate property.

One might be able to make the argument that they are also an owner because they are listed on paperwork at the vet or doggy daycare, however, that outcome isn’t guaranteed. The court might not be convinced that a transmutation occurred and could label the pet as the separate property of the party named on the paperwork.

Including the pet in a settlement agreement

Working out an agreement with your former partner outside of court proceedings is always preferable to involving the legal system. If you can both communicate calmly and openly, you may be able to come up with a mutually beneficial solution for the pet using a settlement agreement. This is a document that both parties collaboratively draft and sign to avoid letting the court decide on the terms of the divorce, which may include what happens to the family pet.

This option gives you more flexibility than leaving the decision up to a judge. While the court may only award the pet to one of you, you can use the settlement agreement to compromise on visitation rights or outline a shared “custody” agreement. This can be particularly beneficial if you’re both very attached to the pet and want to keep your beloved companion involved in both of your lives.

Including the pet in a settlement agreement may also be the best way to keep the pet’s best interests in mind. Many animals experience significant distress when their environment changes, but they may also suffer if they’re forced to say goodbye to one of their caretakers.

On the other hand, one party may be better equipped to provide for the pet based on work schedules or living arrangements. A thoughtful settlement agreement can be the best way to consider these factors and honor the needs of all parties involved — humans and animals alike.

A divorce lawyer can help you weigh your options

Despite what the law says, pets aren’t just property. They’re family members that bring joy and comfort to their human companions, and they deserve special consideration in divorce proceedings.

If your divorce involves a family pet, a compassionate divorce lawyer in Tempe can help you explore the possible arrangements that may work best for your family’s situation. Call Blanchette Law PLLC at (602) 881-1748 to schedule a consultation and begin taking steps to protect your relationship with your pet.

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