If you follow Feher Law, you know we are animal lovers. We dress them up, we take them to the doctor, sometimes we even refer to them as “kids”. Having to address dogs and divorce is a sad and harsh reality. As much as Feher Law loves dogs, Florida law does not love dogs the same way we do. Under Florida law, pets are considered property. This means that the courts will address your pets the same way courts address furniture, tools, and jewelry. This means that a court cannot grant visitation or custody regarding your pets.
Although other states allow pets special status, Florida courts discussed how that could be unwise. Florida courts have held that giving pets special status would lead to visitation issues and continuing enforcement and supervision problems. Since Florida courts are already overwhelmed with supervision of visitation and support matters related to children, Florida courts chose not to undertake the same responsibility with animals.
Florida courts will award the dog to either you or your spouse through a process called equitable distribution. The unique difference about pets is the valuation of a pet is not as easy as it is to value a sofa, a lawnmower, or a gold necklace. If your pet is a thoroughbred horse or a German Shepard that is a show dog, you may be able to value the pet based on income that the pet earns. This means that you may have to trade other personal property in order to keep the pet. However, if your dog is the family pet, it is more difficult to value the dog and determine whether you or your spouse should get the dog.
You can make the same arguments to get the dog as you would for other personal property. If you had the dog prior to the marriage, you are more likely to be awarded the dog, since it can be considered pre-marital or non-marital property. If you were gifted the dog from another family member, you are more likely to be awarded the dog.
In addition to the emotional side of getting the dog, make sure to consider the other issues that surround keeping a pet:
- Will you be able to financially afford to keep the dog? Many individuals need to re-evaluate their personal budgets after divorce. Make sure to calculate and budget for annual vet visits, dog licenses, and any mediation as you consider whether you can care for the pet.
- Will you be able to care for the pet? Many individuals either change their work schedule, begin a new job, or have a new home after divorce. You should consider whether your post-divorce life will allow you to properly care for your pet.
- Who will be the primary caregiver for the children? If you have children who are emotionally attached to the dog, you may be more likely to be awarded the dog. The court may still evaluate the length of time you had the pet, how old the children are, and the financial position of the parties.
The best way to determine who will get the dog is to agree as to who will get the dog. While easier said than done, agreements are the best way to resolve any issues with regard to the pet. If you leave it up to the Courts, they cannot take into account the emotional value of your pet and it will be difficult to value your dog in terms of dollars. Mediation or negotiation is the best process to discuss with your spouse who will get the dog and what the other spouse wants in order to make that agreement.
At Feher Law, we know your dog is special. We know that family law cases are complicated enough. In order to keep your dog out of the court system and to give them as much legal protection as possible, please contact us to schedule a consultation at 727-359-0367 or Kfeher@FeherLaw.com.