What happens to the dog during a divorce?
When spouses get divorced, Arizona law requires that the community property be divided, and the sole separate property be confirmed to the appropriate spouse. In cases involving children, court orders are entered that set forth each parent’s legal rights and responsibilities as to the decision making, right of access, and support of the children. But what happens when divorcing spouses can’t agree over what should happen with the family pet?
Historically, Arizona law treated pets no differently than any other form of personal property. Family courts would treat the family dog no differently than a living room sofa. However, the sands are shifting. The law is slowing moving to “best interests” or “well-being” analyses that would consider the specific animals and their circumstances. Under these frameworks, animal determinations would be treated more like “custody” determinations and the animals’ interests would be taken into consideration. Animal advocates argue that pets have a unique place in the law. There are laws designed to prevent violence or cruelty to animals when no such limitations are placed on other types of personal property (e.g., cars, couches).
As evidence of the trend, Alaska recently became the first state to pass so-called “pet-custody legislation” that allows Alaskan courts to consider the well-being of the animal. Different variations of this “pet-custody legislation” are percolating around the country. In Arizona, the legislature recently changed the statue, A.R.S. §1-215(29), that defines “personal property” to remove “dogs” from the definition. It now reads, “‘Personal property’ includes money, goods, chattels, things in action and evidences of debt.” Though Arizona has not yet passed “pet-custody legislation”, it soon may.
Regardless of any future changes in Arizona law, there are a handful of items to consider when spouses dissolve their marriage with pets. Stay tuned for next month’s article where we explore a few of those items.
Jonathan D. Brooks is a family law attorney at Mesa-based Udall Shumway PLC who represents clients throughout all stages of the family court process for everything from dissolution, paternity and child support to spousal maintenance, relocation, premarital agreements, and adoption. For more information on Udall Shumway and their family law practice, visit www.udallshumway.com.