Everybody knows how serious and painful custody battles can be during a divorce, but what happens when the children involved aren’t humans but family pets? To many people, animals are just as much a part of the family as their own flesh and blood, and the prospect of losing them in a divorce is hard to deal with. So how does Florida law deal with issues of pet ownership during the divorce process?
The law governing pets in Florida is based on Bennet v Bennet, which found that pets and other companion animals are property, just like a car or a sofa. One of the arguments behind this ruling is that courts are already overburdened — if they ordered visitation and custody arrangements for animals, those courts would have to spend time and money they don’t have enforcing those orders. So Florida courts do not currently have the power to create custody or visitation arrangements for family pets.
Because animals are considered to be property, they are subject to equitable division during the divorce process. This means that, unless one party can prove they were the sole owner of the animal before the marriage took place, a judge will decide on a fair division of the couple’s property, including any pets. This decision may include determinations about who could provide the best life for the animal, whether there are children who are attached to the pet, and each spouse’s ability to pay for the animal’s care.
If you and your spouse are willing to work together, you could negotiate all or part of your divorce. Through mediation or the collaborative divorce process, you could choose to establish shared custody or visitation rights for the pet.
To learn more about how to deal with pets during a divorce, consult the Tampa-area family law attorneys at the Law Offices of K. Dean Kantaras, P.A.