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Who Gets to Keep the Pet in a Florida Divorce?

It is a cliché in movies and country songs alike that when a couple goes through a divorce, each party’s main concern is, who gets the dog? For many couples, pets are like family members. They are trusty, loyal, and are there to protect you in moments of imminent danger. That is why, for so many people, the thought of losing Fido to the other spouse is heart wrenching—especially because the courts do not treat pets like the children their owners view them to be, and they do not grant “custody rights” or “visitation” to each spouse. Sadly, pets are mere objects in the court’s eyes, and are treated as a coffee table or television would be. With that in mind, the individuals party to a divorce want to know: How do the courts determine who gets the pet?

Factors a Judge Considers When Homing a Pet

Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the Florida courts divide marriage property in a way that is fair and not necessarily equal (Florida Statute 61.075). The Florida courts do not grant “shared parenting” to property, so in the event of a divorce, the pet – which is property – is going to be given to one spouse or the other, and not both. But because a pet is a living thing, how the courts choose which spouse will get the pet may be a little more involved than how he or she distributes true property, such as furniture, vehicles, and the house.

Before either party stresses too much about who will get the family pet in divorce, know that the judge will first determine whether or not the pet is actually marital property, or if he or she is separate property—meaning, one of the spouses brought the pet into the marriage, as opposed to the couple buying the pet together. If the pet is separate property, the judge will automatically grant ownership to the individual who brought the pet into the marriage in the first place.

However, if the pet is marital property, the judge will consider the following factors before determining who gets Fido:

  • The monetary value of the pet and the contribution of each spouse to that value. Contributions to value may include who paid for the pet, who took care of the pet on a daily basis, and who provided the basic necessities for the pet;
  • Each spouse’s physical and emotional health, and how his or her health may affect his or her ability to care for the pet; and
  • Child custody arrangements. A judge may choose to award the family pet to the custodial parent.

Unlike with children, a judge is not required to factor in the best interests of the pet, and so is not likely to make a decision based off of what the pet needs. However, they will consider each party’s needs, and may make a determination based off of who could benefit the most from the pet living in their home.

Shared Parenting for the Pet

If you and your spouse are both extremely attached to the family pet, you may want to consider writing up a separate sort of “shared parenting” agreement for the pet. For example, you may agree that the pet can travel back and forth with the children, or that each spouse will get to spend every other week with the pet. You can include this plan as a part of the official divorce agreement.

Consult a Boca Raton Divorce Attorney

At the Law Offices of Schwartz | White, our Boca Raton attorneys fully understand just how important a pet can be to an individual. If you and your former spouse shared a pet, and if you feel entitled to full rights to it, divorce lawyers can argue on your behalf in court for the right to keep your pet in your home. To consult a divorce attorney, contact our family law firm at 561.391.9943 or online today.

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