Your marriage is over, but your furbaby still has your heart
Many Floridians have dogs, cats and other pets smaller or larger – or less traditional. Especially during the pandemic, pets play an important role within many households and are part of the family. Lots of people have strong bonds with their animals that they would never want to break – but when divorce looms, who gets Fido or Whiskers, who pays for their care and can a court order custody or visitation of a pet between exes?
Florida sees pets more as property than as family
We have explained in this space that Florida and most other states label pets as personal property to be part of the marital estate divisible between the litigants in divorce. In our previous post, we described the leading Florida case of Bennett v. Bennett (1995).
The appeals court held in Bennett that the trial court did not have the power to give the wife the right to visitation of their dog because the dog was personal property. (It would be like giving the right to visitation with a vehicle or a couch.)
The bottom line is that couples who are smitten with their animals can change this outcome through contract. They could negotiate future pet custody, visitation and financial support through a prenuptial, postmarital or marital settlement agreement. Even though the law doesn’t let a Florida judge treat pets more like human children, the parties can agree to apply the concepts of custody, visitation and financial support to their pets by agreement.
As of this writing, the number still stands at three states with actual legislation in place that gives divorce courts the power to take into account what is in the pet’s interest or the animal’s well-being – Alaska, Illinois and California.
In part 2 of this post, we will look at what some courts have said and the importance of legal counsel in this situation.