Many people share a close and loving bond with their pets, viewing them as unique and special family members. If the pet owners file for divorce in Florida (and most other states), it can be quite a shock to learn that their special pet family members are considered nothing more than personal property, like tables and lamps, under Florida law. As personal property, the Florida divorce judge’s job is to allocate the family pets to one of the two divorcing pet owners as part of the equitable distribution of all marriage property.
Pet lovers find it difficult to comprehend that the judge won’t necessarily take into account which person has played the most active role in caring for the pet, or even which person is better situated post-divorce to offer continuing quality care for the pet. The only nugget of hope can be when the pet was brought into the marriage by one spouse. That spouse may have the edge in receiving the pet in equitable distribution.
What can conscientious pet owners do to ensure that their beloved pet goes to the spouse best able to care for the pet? Where there are children, as well as family pets, the pets will often stay with the parent who has the majority of time-sharing with the children, so as to not separate the children from their pets as a result of the divorce. In 50/50 time-sharing situations, the parents may agree that the pets go with the children if the pets are sufficiently adaptable to frequent changes in household; cats usually are not. Mediation and other alternative dispute resolution approaches can offer a setting in which to work out this type of agreement between spouses.
If you and your spouse just do not agree, it can’t hurt to educate the judge about which spouse assumed most of the care of the pet, i.e. feeding, exercising, vet visits. Even though legally a judge must view your pet as nothing more than property, judges are people too and may be swayed to some extent by which spouse is in the better position to continue caring for the pet.
If you have questions or need any more information, contact an experienced family lawyer for help.