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Who Gets Custody Of The Family Pet?


Ending a marriage involves a lot of decision-making, including everything from deciding who, if anyone, will retain the family home to determining how personal possessions will be divided up. One thing that many families don’t consider, however, is that they’ll need to make arrangements for their pets. While dogs, cats, and other pets may feel like a part of the family, they are still considered a form of property in Florida and as such, their ownership will need to be resolved during the property division process.

Pets Qualify as Marital Property 

Although they often feel more like family than something we own, pets are considered a form of marital property, as long as they were acquired during the marriage. This means that they are subject to Florida’s equitable distribution laws, which state that all marital property must be divided equitably upon divorce. What this looks like will depend on the type of animal in question, its value, and how much it costs to care for it.

Custody of the Family Pet 

If a couple is unable to reach an agreement on who will keep the family pet, then they’ll need to bring the issue before a judge, who will be required to resolve it. When assessing the fate of an animal during divorce, courts look at a number of factors, including:

  • The type of animal, including whether it is a family pet, like a cat or a dog, or an investment, like livestock;
  • The value of the animal;
  • How much it costs to care for the animal, including expenses like shelter, boarding, food, and veterinary bills;
  • Whether the animal has practice value as a service or emotional support animal;
  • Which party is the primary caregiver for the animal;
  • Whether the couple share children who have bonded with the animal; and
  • Whether one of the parties owned the animal prior to marriage.

How these factors shake out in a particular case will depend on the family’s specific circumstances. If, for instance, someone owned a dog before getting married, then it is likely that he or she will retain sole ownership of the animal upon divorce. If, on the other hand, a couple purchased a cat together and gave it to their children, then a judge may decide to let the parent with primary custody of the kids retain the pet.

Settlement Agreements 

It isn’t always necessary to leave these kinds of decisions in the hands of a judge. In fact, while judges aren’t allowed to implement custody arrangements for an animal, couples can do so. Those who are able to reach an out-of-court agreement can be more creative with their solutions, often deciding to engage in a sort of shared custody, where one party has the dog for a certain amount of time, followed by an equal amount of time with the other party.

Reach Out to an Experienced Divorce Lawyer 

Property division often proves to be one of the most difficult aspects of divorce. Disputes about the fate of the family pet, however, can be particularly emotional and frustrating. For help deciding who gets to keep your own family pet after divorce, call or contact dedicated Florida divorce attorney Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. at 954-945-7591 today.




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