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The Fight Over Fido — Who Gets to Keep the Family Pets in a Divorce?


We’ve all heard the joke that says, “We’re staying together for the sake of the dog”.  But in reality, many couples do end up facing a divorce, and in addition to all the other painful decisions about who gets what, pets become part of that dilemma.

Although many of us love our pets as if they are children, when it comes to divorce, the State of Florida regards pets as property –no differently than living room furniture.  Changes in our society have resulted in changes in our households, and as a whole, couples are having fewer children than they did decades ago.  With that, more couples than ever view their pets as children.  With sixty-five percent of all American households being home to a pet, many people are faced with the decision over who gets “custody” of the family pet when a couple decides to divorce.  The division of personal property is heart-wrenching, but the emotional investment and relationship we have with our pets undoubtedly adds salt to an already sizable wound.

Unlike with children, the court will not grant actual custody or visitation rights for pets.  As with the rest of the marital estate, a judge will consider if one of you came into the relationship already owning your pet, and if so, will likely grant ownership to that person.  If your pet was acquired together, the court will consider if one of you had more financial stake in purchasing it and caring for it.  If there are children involved, a judge will often award pet ownership to the parent who will have main custody of the children, so the kids and their pets can stay together.

In the State of Florida, a judge views family pets as chattel, and is not required to consider what is in the best interest of the pet.  The court already has responsibility to assign and enforce child custody when a marriage comes to an end.  Regardless of our emotional attachments, it will not bog itself down with the responsibility of awarding or enforcing custody or visitation for pets.  Nonetheless, most families with pets consider them as a very real part of the family, and the issue of who gets to keep them needs to be worked out.

One of the many reasons to choose a Collaborative divorce is that the couple may choose to create a custody arrangement for their pets that will be enforced by the Courts. A Court cannot do this in a contested divorce case, but if the parties value their pet(s) enough to treat them as their children, the Collaborative process and other forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, allow the parties to decide how their pets will be treated in a way a divorce judge cannot otherwise rule.

Your Collaborative Law Team Can Help

This is where having a Collaborative Law team can make all the difference.  Having a team that includes both lawyers, along with a financial and mental health professional can be invaluable for sorting through and resolving questions like pet ownership that extend beyond the topics decided by a judge.  With the guidance and experience of your team, Collaborative Law can provide the arena for resolution where self-determination is the rule not the exception.

The lawyers at Goodblatt · Leo understand how important pets are to their owners.  With their experience in Collaborative Law and their broad knowledge about the division of property in Florida, they can guide you and assist you in arriving at a peaceful resolution.  Contact us today by phone, or through our website, to set up an individual appointment.

GOODBLATT · LEO is located and serves clients in and around Orlando, FL.

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