Written by Jennifer Moshier

Pets and divorce – it’s more difficult than you think

Divorce Court With Pets?  They’re Property – To the Court

Many divorcing couples don’t have children, but they have one or more pets. And many couples, whether they have children or not, include the family pet as – well, part of the family.

You may not consider your pet a piece of “property,” and like children, animals have physical and emotional needs. We love them, and they exhibit behavior a lot like children: They feel fear, excitement, happiness, hunger, pain . . . and they love us, too.

In a traditional, litigated divorce in Arizona, the court considers pets to be property. A judge will even tell you that a pet has to be awarded just like your sofa or your car. You should not expect a judge to set up a custody plan for your dog. This means you’ll want to agree who receives ownership of your pets after the divorce is final; otherwise, the judge will decide this for you.

While a dog isn’t a child, if you’ve ever lost a pet, you know the pain of not knowing your pet’s outcome.

However, there is a better way. In a collaborative divorce, both spouses work together to decide the future for their pets. When you work together through the collaborative divorce process, your options are endless.

Pets and Divorce – How to Decide

Pets need caregiving, nutrition, medical attention, and a safe environment. In the state of Arizona considers, pets to be property, but any pet owner knows they are so much more than a piece of furniture. In fact, many couples include provisions for pets in a prenuptial agreement even before the wedding. Other considerations include:

  • Best interests of the pet – Will your pet be happier living with the children? Sometimes pets form close relationships with each other. Who could better provide for two or more pets?
  • Financial ability – Quite simply, one of you may be in a better financial position to care for your pets after divorce.
  • Health – Divorce is stressful for pets, too. Even if you agreed who would be the primary caregiver, if your pet exhibits signs of nervousness or depression (loss of appetite, self-biting, incontinence, hair loss…), you may need to change the primary caregiver and/or location. My dog is currently in Canine Cognitive Decline, which is like dementia – and she is losing her hearing. She’s suddenly wandering around at night and sleeping all day.
  • Joint “custody” – With pets, less is more. If the spouses agree to share time with their pet(s), monthly or bi-monthly exchanges may work best. Remember, some animals need familiar environments and may not adapt well to frequent changes.
  • Lifestyle – Who is away from home most? Who has the best outdoor space for the pet? If one spouse was too busy to manage daily pet responsibilities during the marriage, it may not be realistic for that person to become a conscientious caregiver after the divorce.
  • Mediation – If both of you are locked into a disagreement about your pets and divorce, a communications coach could be the key to reaching a resolution that works best for you and your pets.
  • Normal expenses – Food, medications, illness-related treatments and veterinarian wellness visits are important, so decide if one or both of you will be responsible for each expense.

The Attorneys Win In Pet Custody Battles

In court cases, conflicts involving pets and divorce have run the gamut. One extreme example was in 2000 in San Diego, California, when Dr. Stanley and Linda Perkins waged an incendiary court custody battle over their dog Gigi that lasted two years; they spent over $150,000 in legal fees. A “bonding study” (A Day in the life of Gigi), was conducted by an animal behaviorist and may have led to Linda Perkins’ sole custody of their beloved pet.

You Have Better Choices with Pet Disputes

Divorce doesn’t have to be difficult. Many couples agree the best divorce is a collaborative divorce, and in the Phoenix area, BestLegalChoices.com can be the best option for couples who want their divorce to be a beginning of a new direction and a change for the better. Your family – and your pets – will be grateful when you choose a collaborative divorce.

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