Relationships – marriages included – sometimes fail in an epic fashion. divorce. Splitting up can take an emotional and financial toll, and if anger or resentment or revenge plays a role, things can get downright biting.

In a divorce, houses can be sold and most of the property can be divided. Legally speaking, that includes the family dog or cat. The laws in every state but Alaska and Illinois still see pets as property that can be sold.

This can make the question of who gets the dog (or cat) a real bone of contention. Because pets are often loved like family members, custody of the dog after a divorce is often hotly contested. Pet parents consider their pets, like their children, to be priceless and irreplaceable. Sometimes, couples can agree on a custodial schedule for the dog along with division of assets before a divorce goes to court. However, in the absence of agreement, it will be up to the judge to decide who, if anyone, gets custody of the dog.

In Arizona, the courts see a pet as property and the value is what someone would pay to own the pet. Unless you have a valuable registered or breeding pet or a therapy pet, that is usually a very minimal amount. There are movements underway by animal rights advocates to change how the law sees animals so that they’re treated as sentient individuals and not as property. Not only could new laws recognizing animals as individuals spread beyond Illinois and Alaska, but they could also open the door to other interpretations, for instance in veterinary malpractice cases, therapy animals, agriculture and the entertainment industry. Emotional support animals could be the mechanism that changes pets’ legal status.