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Pets and Divorce: Is Visitation Possible?

Divorces are often painful for everyone involved. While property division and child custody get a lot of attention, one item often gets overlooked—the family pet. For many people, particularly those who do not have children, their pets are a vital part of the household dynamic. In fact, one study indicates that dog owners consider their dogs to have equal in status in the family to their children. The term “pet parents” instead of “pet owners” is becoming more commonplace.

As the pets’ status in the family increases, it is important to consider how pets will be treated in a separation or divorce.

Florida Law on Pets in Divorce Proceedings

While pets are often treated like family members, Florida law still considers them marital property. In 1995, the Florida Supreme Court noted that courts were already overwhelmed with determining supervision of children, child support, and visitation. They determined that if pets were given the same treatment, it would be too much for the courts to handle.

Instead, the Court decided that pets should be treated as property, which means that they are included in Florida’s equitable distribution laws. That also means that pet visitation or shared pet custody is not an option under Florida law. There is only “sole custody” for pets because they are treated as property. This treatment is similar to most states in the U.S. today.

Marital Property and Pets

In some situations, one person brings a pet into the relationship. In those cases, the pet is not technically considered marital property because you had the pet before the marriage started. That means that your pet is not subject to equitable distribution as other marital property would be.

This distinction can help one partner keep a beloved pet that they had before the marital relationship started.

Informal Agreements Regarding Pets

Although Florida law does not provide a formal means to develop shared custody or visitation for a pet, you can still set out your own agreement with your prior spouse. This agreement can be part of a post-nuptial or prenuptial agreement. It can also be something that you and your spouse agree on after you file for divorce as well.

To be valid, these agreements must be formalized in a contract. Nonetheless, many couples will use informal and often non-written agreements to develop “pet visitation” schedules. Although these arrangements can work well for some couples, they may not be an option for those who do not get along well. There really is no way for a court to enforce these types of agreements in most situations.

Getting Help With Pet Custody

Because many people have such a strong attachment to their pets, one spouse may try to use this attachment to their advantage. For example, one spouse may demand that they get more property or cash in the property division in exchange for the family dog. While this practice may not be ethical or honest, it is a legal way to obtain more out of settlement negotiations. Having an experienced family law attorney to help with these types of negotiations can help curb this practice. Call today for more information about how we can help.

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