When you got married, you thought that you, your spouse, and your pets became a family that would be together forever.  You never imagine that one day you would be facing a divorce and disputes over your pets would be an issue to deal with.

Today, pets are an important part of people’s lives, and in many homes, they are considered family. This is especially true for couple without children.  Unfortunately, there is no law in Florida that protects pets in a divorce.  There is no such thing as “pet’s parental responsibilities, pet’s support, or time-sharing agreement.”  By law, pets are considered personal property.

So, the big question is:  How do you get “custody” of your pet(s)? Since pets are considered personal property, they would be divided pursuant to Florida’s equitable distribution statute.  The pet would be assigned a monetary value and one party would get to keep the pet and the other party would receive monetary compensation.  The pet could also be sold and the parties would equitably divide the proceeds.  That may sound very harsh, doesn’t it?  Emotional attachment, love, and affections that a party developed towards the pet will be given no to little consideration.

If the pet was yours before entering the marriage, you may probably have the adoption’s papers or other documentation that proves it was yours, therefore it is your property and you get to keep it.  But if you and your former spouse got the pet(s) together during the marriage, you will need to prove why you’re entitled to keep the pet instead of your spouse.

In some cases, pet custody issues can be resolved via mediation or arbitration instead of using the courts. During mediation, couples can work out a pet arrangement cordially.  In other cases, especially if the assigned judge is a pet lover, they may consider in the judge’s discretion the best interest of the pets when determining who gets custody of them.  This is especially so if there is an issue of spousal, child or pet abuse in the divorce proceedings.  Some of the factors the court may take into consideration when fighting for pet’s custody are:

  • Which partner brought the pet(s) into the marriage before the relationship started?
  • Which partner adopted or purchased the pet(s)?
  • Was the pet gifted one to the other spouse?
  • Which partner is better suited and has more free time to take care of the pet(s)?
  • Which partner is the main caretaker (feeding, walking, cleaning, vet appointments, pays bills)?
  • Which partner is the pet more attached to, or follows around the house?
  • Will the pet(s) be allowed in the complex if moving to an apartment?
  • Will the pet(s) be alone most of the time because of work schedules?
  • Any evidence of neglect or abuse, from any of the parties involved, towards the pet(s);
  • If children are involved in the case and they are attached to the pet and vice versa, the courts would probably try to keep the children and pets in the same household.

With that said, if you are willing to fight for your pet’s custody, we recommend you to start collecting all of the items that may help your case, such as:

  • Adoption’s papers and receipts;
  • Bank statements showing bills paid for vet’s visits, food and medicines;
  • Make sure your pet is registered under your name at the vet’s office;
  • Any other evidence that shows that you are the primary caretaker of the pet(s).

Another great option that is becoming very popular and will give you peace of mind, is to have a “Pet Custody Agreement” in place before you purchase a pet.  You and your spouse may decide in an agreement who will have ownership of the pets if the relationship ends or which party is responsible for financial maintenance, or whether or not there will be visitation time for the non-custodial pet parent. This would be the best way to handle a situation where both spouses want to share time with the pet after a divorce.  And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t like their furry child to be happy and healthy.

At Seff & Capizzi Law Group, we regularly assist clients and provide valuable information for those that need assistance in understanding how to approach this particular situation in their own lives. For a consultation please call us at (954) 920-9220.  We have over 40 years of experience and offer a free consultation. Click here for more information about our family law practice and how Seff & Capizzi can help.