Many pet owners treat their pets as if they are their own children, whether it be a dog, cat, turtle, or gerbil. For these owners, the pet is an integral part of the family. Unfortunately, in a Florida divorce, pets are not considered part of the family. Rather, they are considered property. That means that when the divorce process is complete, only one spouse will own the pet and the other will not be able to see the animal. Divorcing couples can choose to agree to another arrangement, but the Court will only award pets to one spouse in a divorce. Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you with this emotional issue of pet custody.
How Florida’s Equitable Distribution Laws Apply to Pets
Florida follows equitable distribution laws when it comes to property division, which means property is divided fairly, although not necessarily equally. When the case is taken to Court, the outcome will depend heavily on the facts of your case. While the best interests of the pet are not taken into consideration in the same way as when child custody decisions are being made. The Court will consider several factors when deciding on which party can keep the pets. These factors include: 1) If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, the pet will typically remain with that spouse when the marriage is dissolved; 2) Which party spent the most time and effort caring for the pet?; 3) Which party took the pet to vet appointments and otherwise tended to its needs?; 4) Which party is financially capable of caring for the pet?; 5) Which party is in the best health to care for the pet?; 6) What is the value of the pet?; 7) If a couple has children, the pets will go where the children go to prevent any further loss, pain, or heartache; 8) Finally, if there is a prenuptial agreement, and it addresses the issue of who gets the pet in the event of a divorce, then there is no argument as to who the pet is going home with.
The best solution for you, your future ex-spouse and your pet is to settle custody and visitation privately to avoid having someone else with no emotional connections decide your pet’s fate for you. Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you with this dispute. Judges will sometimes make decisions about pets quite quickly during a divorce case, and they will not consider things such as which party has the strongest emotional bond with the pet. A Judge in one case threatened to put the cat in the middle of a room and grant custody to whichever spouse the cat ran toward.
When two parties cannot reach an agreement on their own, mediation is often helpful. In Florida, mediation is mandatory for divorcing couples anyway, so if you own a pet, you should raise the issue during these sessions. The mediator is a neutral third party that will foster compromise and communication about the issue and help you reach an agreement with your spouse. Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you with any issue in your divorce case at mediation and ensure your rights are always protected.
About the Author
B. Elaine Jones is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing family law, guardianship law and criminal law for over 25 years in Florida. Ms. Jones is an associate with the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida. Ms. Jones previously had a solo practitioner firm in Hillsborough County and joined Attorney Goldman’s firm in November of 2020. You can contact Ms. Jones at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation in most cases.