Imagine for a moment that you and your spouse have been married for a few years. You decide not to have kids, but you both know there’s something missing in your life. So you go get a pet — and for years, your lives are great. But then one day you and your spouse come to the realization that it’s time to divorce.

The two of you have many discussions about how the divorce should be handled. The discussions are measured and amicable, and both of you have an understanding on how things will proceed. Just then, your pet walks by. You and your spouse look at your pet and then look back at each other, giving each other a quizzical look that says “what are we going to do about the pet?”

This is where things can get complicated, especially since Arizona is a community property state. However, don’t panic. Pet custody situations have been handled in divorce cases before. It isn’t as if this is some area of divorce law that has never been approached.

Pets are usually determined to be property, which, when they qualify as community property (and in the above situation, the pet would qualify as community property since it was brought into the fold during the course of the marriage and it wasn’t a gift) can create tough courtroom discussions about custody or ownership.

What can really help splitting spouses who have a pet is to come to a pet custody agreement before going to court, thereby expediting the process and ensuring that the agreement you have in place is something the two of you approve of.

Source: Parade, “In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?,” Michele C. Hollow, Aug. 18, 2014