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The Fate Of The Family Pet During Divorce


When a couple decides to divorce they can expect to face a number of complicated issues during their legal proceedings, including whether one spouse will be owed alimony and how the parties will divide their marital assets. While a pet can feel like much more than property and more akin to a family member, the law still sees them as an asset, which means that couples who cannot decide on who will keep the family pet, may need to leave the fate of that animal up to a judge as part of the property division process.

Is the Pet Marital Property? 

When dividing assets during divorce, courts differentiate between marital and separate assets. The former include property that was obtained by either spouse during the course of the marriage, while the latter covers assets that were brought into the marriage by one of the parties. Only assets that are deemed marital in nature are divisible during a Florida divorce, with most separate property remaining in the sole possession of the original owner. Although it may seem odd, a judge who is deciding the fate of a family pet during divorce would use these same categories. If, for instance, one spouse had a dog at the time of the marriage, then it’s likely that he or she would get to keep the animal upon divorce. If, on the other hand, the couple purchased the pet together after getting married, deciding who gets to keep it can become more complicated, as, unlike other marital assets, it isn’t really possible to divide an animal.

Factors to Address When Determining Ownership 

If a pet ends up being deemed a marital asset, then courts can assess a number of factors when deciding who will get to keep the animal, including:

  • Whether there is clear documentation establishing ownership of the pet;
  • Who was responsible for caring for the animal during the marriage;
  • The value of the animal;
  • Who is in the best position to provide care for the pet upon divorce;
  • Whether the spouses can reach an agreement on a pet custody arrangement; and
  • Whether the couple shares children who are attached to the animal.

The answers to these questions will largely dictate what happens to a family pet upon divorce. If, for instance, a couple shares children who are very attached to the family dog, then a judge will likely order that the parent with primary custody of those children retain the animal for the comfort of the kids. Alternatively, if one spouse is clearly unable to provide care for the animal, then ownership would probably be granted to the other partner. It’s important to note, however, that couples are allowed to come up with their own custody-type arrangements for the animal in an out-of-court setting. Once an agreement is reached and the court approves it, it can become a legally binding order.

An Experienced and Compassionate Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer 

If you and your spouse have decided to divorce and you are concerned about the fate of your family pet, please call experienced Florida divorce lawyer Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. for help. You can reach us at 954-945-7591 or by sending an online message.


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