Deciding who gets the pets in a divorce

Florida pet owners who are filing for divorce may wonder who gets to keep the family pets after a separation. While some people may consider their pets to be members of the family, the law does not agree. In the courtroom, a dog or cat is treated as a piece of property.

What that means is that when deciding who gets to keep the pets, most judges follow the same guidelines that they would use when deciding the equitable division of any other property. This is historically not a situation where the judge will take the time to determine what is in the best interest of the pet or establish custody and visitation as he or she would with a child of the marriage. Depending on when the pet was obtained, it may be considered the separate property of one spouse, or it could be assigned to a spouse as part of the marital property.

However, in recent years, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has reported that there have been more pet custody cases in the family court system than in years past. As a result, it has become much more common for judges to consider a variety of factors surrounding the pet's well-being before making a decision. The judge might consider whether one spouse's work schedule allows flexibility to care for a pet or whether either spouse has acted abusively toward the animal.

A family law attorney may be able to help divorcing spouses reach a mutual agreement regarding who gets to keep the family pet. If necessary, an attorney may be able to file a motion and go to court to fight for custody of the animal.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?", Nancy Kay, November 10, 2013

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