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What Happens to the Family Pet During a Divorce?

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The emotional whirlwind of a divorce involves many complicated decisions, ranging from asset division to child custody arrangements. But one question often arises, tugging at the heartstrings of those involved: What happens to the family pet during a divorce?

Pets hold a special place in our homes and hearts, making this question all the more poignant. To understand how the legal system approaches this matter, it’s essential to explore how precedence has shaped how Florida courts manage pets during a divorce.

Pets Are Considered Property

In Florida, pets are considered personal property. This categorization might surprise many pet owners who view their furry companions as far more than just assets or possessions. However, in the eyes of the law, pets are treated similarly to vehicles, furniture, or other personal property when it comes to divorce proceedings.

Pets as property was established in a 1995 case before the appellate court, Bennett v. Bennett. This case is a key reference point in understanding how pets are handled during divorce. In this case, the trial court initially awarded the husband "custody" of the divorcing couple's dog, with visitation rights to the wife.

However, upon appeal, the appellate court clarified that the trial court lacked the authority to order visitation with personal property. The appellate court clarified that pets should be dealt with through the equitable distribution process, meaning they are subject to division just as any other marital asset would be.

Deciding Who Gets the Family Pet

Since pets are considered property under Florida law, the method for determining who gets the family pet in a divorce typically falls under the equitable distribution procedure. This means that the court looks at various factors to decide who should retain ownership, much like other unique property holdings that are not easily divided between the parties.

These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Who primarily takes care of the pet.
  • Who has the financial capability to support the pet.
  • The pet's attachment to children involved in the divorce, if any.
  • Any established agreements made by the parties regarding the pet.

Despite being classified as property, judges are not ignorant of the emotional bond between pets and owners. They may consider the pet’s well-being to some extent, even if not in the same manner as they consider the best interests of a child in a child custody case.

Do Couples Ever Share Custody of a Pet?

While the Bennett v. Bennett case set precedence that pets should be treated as property, leading to no official visitation rights, some divorcing couples opt to create their own agreements regarding their pets post-divorce. Provisions for pet custody, sometimes included as part of a prenuptial or other marital agreement, can outline stipulations similar to a child custody arrangement, dictating when and where the pet spends its time.

Tips for Divorcing Couples

Recognizing the deep emotional connections people have with their pets, divorcing couples must approach the topic with understanding and compassion. Engaging in open and honest discussions, possibly with the assistance of legal counsel, can lead to solutions that prioritize the pet's well-being.

More tips for couples trying to decide who keeps the family pet during a divorce:

  • Evaluate the pet's daily needs: Consider which party has more time and resources to meet the pet's daily needs, including feeding, walking, and playtime activities.
  • Consider long-term living arrangements: Think about where each party will live post-divorce. The pet's well-being should be a priority, with consideration for space, safety, and environment.
  • Seek external advice: Don't hesitate to consult with a veterinarian or a pet behaviorist to understand what's best for the pet, especially if there are concerns about the pet's health or adaptability to change.

Consulting with a knowledgeable Florida family law attorney like ours at Law Offices of Jason K.S. Porter, P.A. can provide clarity and guidance. We are ready to help you understand your legal options and work toward an outcome that reflects the best interest of all involved—pets included.

Contact us online to schedule a consultation today.

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