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Pets and Divorce

According to the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, more than 66% of all U.S. households own either a dog or cat. For many people, their furry animal friends are more than just cuddly companions – they’re as beloved as children. And this can make divorce proceedings contentious, as each couple fights to retain ownership of the family pet.

Award of Pets in Florida Divorce

Unfortunately for Boca Raton pet owners, Florida law considers pets to be personal property. That means the court will not order custody or visitation, nor will it enforce any custody or visitation agreement set out in the divorce agreement. Instead the court considers the pet an asset subject to division between the parties, the same as checking accounts, vehicles and household furniture.

How then can a pet owner increase the chances that they will walk away from the marriage with their beloved family member?

Get it in writing. The best way to resolve any conflict over division of assets in divorce is to come to a mutual agreement with your soon to be ex-spouse. Although in the 1995 case Bennett v. Bennett the Florida Court of Appeals ruled that the court cannot be responsible for enforcing custody and visitation rights over animals, this does not mean you and your spouse cannot agree to a custody and visitation agreement. Just know that if one party does not abide by it, the court will not enforce the agreement and will award the pet subject to equitable distribution.

Maintain ownership records. Just like title to a car can be used to prove ownership, so too can documents show that the pet belongs more to one spouse than the other. Any document showing that you alone owned the pet – such as license registration, veterinary records, or purchase agreements – will help show that the pet is your separate property, not a marital asset, and should be awarded to you.

Keep receipts. If you and your spouse maintained separate accounts, being able to prove that you paid for costs related to the animal’s care – such as veterinary bills, training, food or toys – from your separate funds will help prove to the court that the pet belonged more to you than your spouse.

Prove your ability to care for the pet. While pets may be considered personal property, they are different from cars or bank accounts in that they require active care. Proving to the court that you are better able to care for the pet may sway the judge’s decision in your favor. Factors that may prove helpful include frequent travel by your spouse, prohibition against pets in his new apartment or home, or evidence of allergies.

Get a pre- or post-marital agreement. If you have pets when you and your spouse sign a pre- or post-marital agreement, you can include who will receive the pet in the event of divorce.

Boca Raton Divorce Attorney

Despite Florida law’s characterization of pets as personal property, at Schwartz | White we understand that for many people, pets are an important and beloved part of the family. Our experienced Boca Raton divorce attorneys will help you try to negotiate custody of the pet with your spouse, or help you build a case that will convince the court to award the pet to you. Contact our Boca Raton office today at 561.391.9943, or complete our convenient web form, and schedule your free initial consultation today.

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