Custody of Pets
I am currently in the process of separating from my spouse, and plan to file for divorce in the near future. My spouse and I have two dogs together, and I am worried about what will happen to the dogs in the divorce. Our dogs are like our children, and I know my spouse and I will both want the dogs once we are separated. I feel that it would be better for the dogs to stay with me. I am more attached to the dogs and I am the one who cares for them daily. My spouse loves the dogs as well, but I feel like I have a stronger bond with them, and my work schedule allows me to be home with them more. I would be open to reaching an agreement with my spouse to allow both of us to spend time with the dogs after the divorce as long as the dogs primarily live with me. Will I be able to keep my dogs in the divorce? Can my spouse get a court order allowing him to continue seeing the dogs even if they are staying with me? Our Orlando pet custody attorneys can help you keep your pets.
While most people view their pets as part of the family and as living beings with needs to be considered, Florida courts do not view pets in that same light. Under Florida law, pets are considered personal property. This means that in a divorce, pets are subject to equitable distribution along with all other property and assets owned by the couple. Based on this approach, a court is limited in the extent it will hear arguments regarding each party’s ability to care for the animal, the animal’s needs, and the emotional attachment of the parties to the animal. The court could possibility not even hear these arguments at all. Instead, the court would use the factors considered for equitable distribution of property, which are laid out in a Florida statute.
As Florida courts will not consider the factors that most people consider important when deciding the fate of their pet, parties may have other options in determining who will get the pet in the divorce. If one party owned the pet exclusively before the marriage occurred, that party could argue that the pet is nonmarital property and should be awarded to the party who originally owned it. Parties may also negotiate outside of litigation regarding who gets the pet and have this agreement between them included in the final judgment. One party may be willing to give up something else of value to persuade the other party to let them have the pet.
One thing that is important to consider is that Florida courts will not get involved with visitation schedules for pets. If a court were to order that the parties share the pet through a visitation schedule and one party later refused to follow the court order to share the pet, the aggrieved party that was denied the pet could file a motion for contempt against the party refusing to honor the court order. This would cause an increased burden on court dockets and judicial resources that the courts are not willing to allow. Therefore, be aware that if your spouse offers to let you see the pet occasionally if you let them keep it and later refuses to let you have contact with the pet, you would be left with no legal recourse against them.
Parties can also address who will keep the pets in the event of a divorce through a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements cannot be used to establish custody or child support for children, but given that pets are legally considered personal property, these agreements can govern which spouse will keep the pet in the divorce.
While talking about family pets as if they were property may feel cruel and uncomfortable, it is important to understand the approach the courts will take when determining where the pets will go to ensure you get the best possible results. Hiring a family law attorney that has experience in handling divorce cases with pets can be valuable when fighting to keep your pet and making sure your pet’s needs are considered throughout the process.
Here at My Florida Family Law Firm, our family attorneys understand how important pet issues can be. Negotiating with your spouse instead of letting a judge decide who gets your pet is often the best way to ensure you receive your pet in most cases. Our attorneys are skilled negotiators and can help you navigate where to compromise with your spouse on other issues to allow you the best chance to get your pet and still reach the best possible outcome for your case. Our attorneys will also help you understand your legal rights to ensure you do not agree to any settlement involving your pets without full knowledge of what will be legally enforceable and what the end result of those agreements will be. With courts allowing for little to no time to present arguments or evidence on the welfare of your pet, our attorneys prepare strong, concise arguments well in advance of trial that focus on the most important factors the courts may consider. Our attorneys will also focus on other areas of the divorce that the court will consider that may play a role in who gets the pet, including the time sharing agreement for the children, the best interest of the children, domestic violence, and whether either spouse will continue residing in the marital home. If you are involved in a divorce and custody of your pets is a highly contested issue, call us for a free consultation 24/7 at 407-872-0303 or 352-357-4084.