How does pet custody work in a divorce?

Divorces between pet parents tend to fire up rivalry fast. Whereas Florida courts have standards for establishing child custody, the way pets are handled is much different.

Pets are property

In fact, according to Florida law, a pet is considered property -- just like a house or a car or a TV. Ths, the way the pet is handled falls to property division laws by the state.

That means if the pet was purchased by one spouse before the marriage ceremony, the pet is considered the "separate property" of that spouse and belongs to him or her.

If the pet was purchased by either spouse after the marriage, the pet is considered "marital property" and belongs to both spouses. Marital property is subject to division in a divorce.

How to split marital property

Marital property is split equitably, meaning if one spouse gets to keep the pet, the other spouse will likely be entitled to a marital asset of similar monetary value. However, if one spouse makes a significantly higher income, he or she may be entitled to a larger portion of the assets.

If the pet is marital property or the spouses purchased the animal together prior to their marriage, the court may consider the following factors to determine who the animal should be designated to:

  • Who paid for the animal's initial purchasing price
  • Who has paid for other expenses related to the animal -- including food, vaccinations, other medical treatments, dog-walking services, etc.
  • Who has spent more time caring for the animal -- including feeding and watering the animal, cleaning up after the animal, walking the animal, bathing the animal, etc.
  • Whether one spouse already has a different pet as separate property
  • Whether the pet is a registered service animal for either spouse

What if we want to share the animal?

Couples who divorce amicably may be interested in devising a custody arrangement for their pet. However, the courts will not acknowledge or participate in this agreement in divorce proceedings.

That means if ex-spouses want to create a custody agreement for their pet, it must be done independently and will not be legally enforceable. The courts will, however, assign the pet to one of the two owners through the property division process.

Do I have any other options?

A Family Law attorney can review your unique situation to assess whether there are other defenses you have for keeping your pet. Otherwise, a lawyer could also advise you on the best trade-off for the animal.

In either case, having an attorney with experience by your side can help ensure that you don't end up agreeing to a bad deal through your divorce proceedings.

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