Can Custody of Pets be Addressed in My Divorce?
It is common for couples to embrace their pets as they do children. Therefore, when involved in a divorce, the custody of a pet can become a source of contention between the parties. However, many question whether or not a court can provide or even enforce an order directing for the custody of a pet in a divorce action. If you and your partner have pets and you anticipate retention of these pets to be a debate between you and your spouse, ensure you discuss this with your Pensacola Divorce Attorney to receive information on the options available to you.
With no statutes directly assessing the “custody” of a household pet, Florida courts have routinely categorized and divided them in a divorce proceeding just as they would any other tangible property. Under Florida law, property is divided in a divorce under an equitable distribution framework. Under an equitable distribution approach, the property or pet in question will first need to be categorized as marital or separate property. If the pet was acquired by a single spouse prior to the marriage, it may be argued that the animal is separate property and therefore should remain with the spouse who brought it with them into the marriage. However, the other spouse may also argue that marital funds were spent on the pet and therefore, it should be considered marital property. If found to be marital the court will then attempt to equitably “divide” the pet. Because a pet may not be given a dollar value, and implementing a visitation with a pet is an action rarely employed by the court, the judge is likely to award sole ownership of the pet to one spouse, which can be disheartening to the other spouse. However, there are methods in which you may circumvent a judicial determination of “custody” of your pet.
It is often encouraged to come to a negotiated agreement with your spouse regarding the placement of your household pet. This generally occurs through a mediation where each party may address their desires regarding the property in question and come to a suitable arrangement. For instance, although the pet may be important to both parties, one spouse may find that a different asset is more valuable to them. Therefore, you may agree to waive your rights to the other asset desired by your spouse in return for retention of your family pet. Further, if you are unable to come to an agreement regarding sole ownership of the pet, you may agree to a time sharing schedule where each party is given a period of time with the pet. This agreement can document the times in which the pet will be in the custody of each partner, the manner of exchange, and even the determination of who will pay the expenses for the pet.
Pets are often considered to be part of a family if not another child of the parties. However, with no legal statute determining how pets can be divided in a divorce, it can be difficult to argue who will retain custody of these furry friends. If you are a pet parent and are wishing to keep custody of your pets after your divorce, discuss your concerns with your Pensacola Divorce Attorney to ensure you are protected and the particular steps that may need to be taken in order to keep these pets in your life after your divorce.
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