Young girl cuddling with dog on a sofa at home.
Written by Jennifer Moshier

The custody of your pets is different in collaborative divorce

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Divorce is already a difficult process without the additional complication of the division of assets and debts and creating child custody plans. Each state has its laws and views, which can make sifting through the legalities even more confusing. One often overlooked aspect of the divorce process is the custody of your pets. Most people tend to think of their pets as a cherished member of the family. However, in Arizona, the courts consider pets to be property, which means one party may end up being “awarded” this family member.

There are many benefits to collaborative divorce, and one of them is this very issue. The collaborative process can help you come to a better arrangement regarding the custody of your pets. Here’s how.

Understanding what property means

During a divorce, you will divide your property. This may be everything from houses and cars to IRAs and bank accounts. You will evaluate and divide these “assets” during a dissolution.

The issue with pets is that they don’t always feel like property, but rather like valued companions. Further, when children are involved, those pets may be a big part of their lives as well. That’s when it’s important to look at the overall role of the pets in your family and to create a mutual agreement. The agreement can address the following aspects of pets and pet ownership:

  • Who will retain primary ownership of the pet?
  • When will the pet spend time at the other household? Will the pet go back and forth with the children?
  • Who will make medical decisions (care, surgery, euthanasia)?
  • How will financial responsibility be allocated?

Note that if the case ends up in court, the judge is most likely to award the pet to one of you or the other. In other words, you both risk losing the pet to the other. This is where working together for the best outcome is essential.

What pet ownership entails

Pets cost money and take time. Both parties should look at their current situation when deciding whether to take on custody of your pets, or whether to allow the other party to take primary ownership but maintain the right to occasionally visit with the pet. Pets need care and the right living conditions to thrive. Keep these considerations in mind.

Another factor to consider is whether there are any children involved. If kids are attached to pets, it may be in their best interest to keep the pets where the children are. If both parties are willing, pets can shift back and forth as the children do. When working through the collaborative process, make sure to add pets to the list of discussion items.

How collaborative law helps with pet arrangements

Discussions in a calm setting allow people to come to decisions that benefit everyone, including the family pets. Having an open conversation about who has the financial resources, time, and energy to care for pets will go a long way in smoothing out the process. Like any part of your divorce, keep an open mind during the conversation. Will your pet benefit from a weekly hike with your ex-spouse? Are you willing to contribute financially to pet care so your children can maintain stability even if the pet doesn’t reside with you?

By discussing each component, you may also save time and money rather than battling it out in court. Be honest and realistic, and allow the collaborative professionals to guide you through the tough questions.

While the courts may consider pets to be property, they are living beings. They are also a commitment your family made, and you should handle their well-being carefully. Collaborative law can address both owner and pet needs, and help design an ideal outcome for everyone involved. Contact Best Legal Choices, and we can help you to resolve this issue.