Can you get custody of a pet in a divorce?

Many of us in Florida think of our pets like members of the family. It comes as a shock to some people that, when it comes to divorce, state courts treat pets just like any other asset in the property division process.

In a landmark 1995 case, the Florida Court of Appeals ruled that a couple's pet dog was the separate property of the defendant, and therefore overturned a lower court's order that gave the plaintiff visitation with the pet. To date, this remains the only published decision in which a higher Florida court addressed the legal status of pets in divorce.

Because pets are treated like property in divorce, courts do not need to analyze the animal's best interests, as they do with children. Therefore, pet owners generally have to decide for themselves who will keep the animal in a divorce the same way they decide who keeps the car or the couch. In cases where the divorcing spouses can't reach a settlement on their own, the court is forced to decide, and a court will treat a pet just like any other piece of property, handing it off to one ex-spouse or the other, or telling them to sell it and split the proceeds.

Of course, a beloved dog or cat is not a couch, a car or some other inanimate piece of property. Our emotional attachment can make it very difficult to reach agreement about who keeps the pet. Property division negotiations are rarely easy, but when they involve a pet, they can be much harder.

When you look for a lawyer to help with divorce and other family law matters, find a professional who understands the legal and emotional issues involved. A skilled attorney can treat the negotiations with the professional detachment they require, while at the same time being sensitive to your needs.

Source: The Florida Bar Journal, "Should Family Pets Receive Special Consideration in Divorce?" Timothy L. Arcaro, 2017, accessed March 1, 2018

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