When a divorcing couple has a pet, but no children, the pet can very quickly assume center stage in a fight for “custody” of the beloved pet. The warring parties may each envision convincing the divorce judge of how much better care he or she can provide for the pet compared to the other spouse, with a decision from the judge as to which spouse can meet the “best interests” of the pet post-divorce. However, this is not the way the law works in Florida and most other states.
Pets, even pets considered to be beloved family members, are nothing more than personal property under Florida law to be divided between the divorcing couple. Obviously a single pet cannot be “divided,” so that means one spouse wins the pet and one spouse loses. If this feels like too big of a decision to leave in the divorce judge’s hands, there are other options.
If one spouse is bringing a beloved pet into the marriage, a written prenuptial agreement allowing that spouse to keep the pet in the event of divorce can be effective. This type of advance planning can be achieved later in a post-nuptial agreement. In some cases, couples may consider whether one spouse should pay the other “petimony” for the care of the pet.
Alternative dispute resolution approaches like mediation can be used to help the currently divorcing couple work through the emotional issues attached to deciding who gets to keep the pet. The pet owners, the ones who know and love their pet best, can ultimately make the difficult “best interests of the pet” decision, put it in written form, and the divorce court will honor their agreement in the divorce judgment. If you are strongly committed to keeping your pet with you post-divorce, it may be worthwhile to offer some other desirable asset in trade for receiving full ownership of your pet in the divorce.
If you need help creating a pet prenuptial agreement, figuring out how to get petimony or need any further help during your divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney.