If you consider your dog, cat, or other animal to be more than a pet or companion animal, you’re not alone. About 95 percent of U.S. pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family, according to a recent Harris poll.
It’s not surprising that when Arizona couples divorce or separate, one of the most contentious, emotional issues to be resolved is often who keeps the family pet(s). If you and your partner are contemplating a break-up, legal separation or divorce, you would be wise to consult with an Arizona pet custody attorney who is passionate about animal welfare and highly experienced in the legal aspects of pet custody.
The legal status of a pet
Pet ownership is quite common. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans have at least one pet in their household. In Maricopa County, Arizona, over half a million households own one or more dogs. Nearly that many own at least one cat, based on statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Believe it or not, Phoenix, Arizona, is the city with the highest per-capita pet spending in the United States: $33.38 per month on average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
If pets are so important to people, you might expect that they would be considered important in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately, pet custody is an emerging area in which the law has yet to catch up with changes in society. Under Arizona law, your beloved family pet has no more legal significance than a toaster. In other words, it is considered to be personal property. In a divorce or legal separation, most judges, by default, will consider your dog, cat, or other animal to be just another piece of property to be divided between the parties.
Fortunately, there has been a growing push within the legal community to recognize pets as having intrinsic value as living, breathing beings—that is, to treat them as falling somewhere between personal property and human beings.
Although not yet written into Arizona law, this effort is beginning to show results. National family-law expert Gary Skoloff writes: “Judges consider pet custody a legitimate issue. Many of the same arguments pertaining to child custody fit and no judge laughs at this.”