Is Mittens more loyal than your soon-to-be ex-spouse?
In part 1, we revisited the treatment of family pets in Florida divorces – basically like personal property. Sadly, in some marriages that are on the rocks, parties develop more feelings for their pets than for their spouses. Or not sadly, if that beloved animal helps them get through this difficult experience.
Of course, a litigant may approach divorce very concerned about keeping their pet. Rightly so, because Florida law, like that of most other states, puts pet animals firmly in the column with other personal property like jewelry, furniture and other physical objects.
We described these issues in part 1 and in an earlier post, and today we look at baby steps some divorce courts are taking to acknowledge the living relationship we have with our pets.
Cracks in the armor?
Courts across the country sometimes struggle to resolve pet disputes in divorce. After all, it is hard to place a value on a beloved living being and give it to one of the parties like a painting or a vehicle. How do you place a monetary value on a mutt you rescued from a shelter, but whom family members all love fervently? A divorcing person with a beloved pet may be willing to give up assets worth much, much more monetarily than they could sell the dog for.
Some judges are thinking outside the box. For example, a Texas court upheld a trial judge’s order that a wife become the managing conservator of the couple’s dog Bonnie Lou – essentially giving the wife the right normally given to parents caring for human children – to make important decisions like those concerning the dog’s health. (Arrington v. Arrington (1981))
Even Florida courts have stretched a bit:
- In McMillen v. Natali (2011), the appeal was not properly handled and there was no record to review. Still, the court said that the issue of the lower court’s granting to the husband of “periodic possession” of a dog, even if it had been “properly presented,” would likely not have been “invalidated.”
- In a case only a couple of months old as of this writing, Harby v. Harby, the court said that one factor a Florida court can weigh in dividing property is “a party’s sentimental interest in property, such as the ordinary attachment to pets” so long as sentiment does not outweigh “financial fairness.” The court also noted that the dogs comforted the children during the divorce process and that the kids were mostly with the former husband, so giving him the dogs was not an abuse of discretion.
Further thoughts and takeaways
Whether you hope to negotiate a settlement agreement on these issues, face a fight over your beloved pet in court, need a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to contractually secure your pet’s future in case of divorce or need to enforce a court order about pet ownership your ex has flaunted, an experienced Florida family lawyer will fight for you and your pet.
An attorney can thoroughly assess your situation to understand what creative arguments can be made to a judge to advocate for keeping your pet secure and with you. For example, should you get to keep your pet because it is your separate, nonmarital property not even subject to property division? Or would it be in your child’s best interest to live with the dog or cat?