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How Does Equitable Distribution of Pet Ownership Work?


Millennials’ memories of the 90s are a fever dream in garish colors, but if you concentrate hard enough, you might remember the incident where Drew Barrymore and Tom Green had a brief marriage, followed by an epic divorce battle over their dog Flossie.  It’s all fun and celebrity Schadenfreude until it happens to you.  Deciding who gets to keep the pets after you and your spouse break up is one of the most painful things about getting divorced.  If you have children together, then only one spouse getting to keep the family pet is just one aspect of the pain of the breakup of a family, but at least the parenting plan and the guidelines for determining the children’s best interests are there to help you.  Meanwhile, if you do not have children together, then you get to focus all of your attention on fighting over your pet, and it turns into a scorched earth war.  In other words, the family courts are much more helpful at deciding matters of child custody than they are at resolving disputes over pet ownership.  You may not be able to count on the judge to have your back, but you can count on your Boca Raton divorce lawyer.

What Influences Judges’ Decisions About Which Spouse Keeps the Family Pets After a Divorce?

From a legal perspective, domestic animals are property.  This means that, in a divorce trial, the court must decide whether the pets are separate property or marital property.  If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, the pet is his or her separate property, so he or she keeps the pet after the divorce.  In other words, if you always felt that your spouse’s dog came first in your life and you were just an interloper, the law agrees.

If you bought or adopted the pet during your marriage, it is marital property, and the court must award it to one spouse or the other.  The family courts of Florida do not award “shared custody” of pets; one spouse gets to keep the animal, and the monetary value of one cat or dog is usually so little that the court does not order the pet-keeping spouse to compensate the pet-losing spouse with money.  It does, however, make findings about which spouse is better able to care for the pet, based on the spouses’ health and which one has done more pet caregiving in the past.

Spouses Can Enter Into Their Own Agreements About “Pet Custody”

Two people can enter into a legally enforceable contract about almost any property-related matter.  Therefore, it is possible for you and your spouse to work out a pet sharing agreement during mediation.  It is also possible to include pet-related provisions in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

Contact Schwartz | White About Divorcing a Fellow Animal Lover

A South Florida family law attorney can help you if you and your spouse can’t agree about who gets to keep the pets after your divorce.  Contact Schwartz | White in Boca Raton, Florida about your case.



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