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Can You Fight for Custody of Your Pet?

It used to be that pets were assigned the same value as sofas or other material possessions in divorce proceedings. Apparently, that is changing as more divorcing couples are grappling with custody agreements for their pets.

When a marriage comes to an end, splitting up the material possessions is inevitable. However, figuring out what to do with a beloved family pet can be a difficult and emotional process, for you, your spouse, your kids and the pet. Increasingly, spouses are drawing up pet custody agreements to ensure they equally share visitation rights and financial burdens for costs such as healthcare.

Under Florida law — indeed under all state laws — pets are deemed property. However, simply allotting the pet a monetary value is usually not a solution that is acceptable to either side in a divorce, and can be especially unfair to the pet.

One way to avoid having your pet arbitrarily assigned to one spouse is to agree on a pet custody arrangement in advance. Your divorce attorney can help draw up the necessary paperwork to facilitate such an agreement.

If you cannot reach an agreement, you can take your claim to court. However this decision can be risky since there are no custody laws in place to deal with this issue. So the judge’s decision is ultimately an arbitrary one often based on which spouse is more likable rather than any legal standard. When the divorcing couple has children, research shows the judge is more likely to award the pet(s) to the partner who retains the family home and majority custody of the children.

That being said, there are many facts that could sway the judge in your direction should going to court be inevitable. It is important to prepare for a pet custody hearing by presenting persuasive evidence such as that the pet was yours before the marriage, that you are the primary care-giver or that you have more time and space to care for the pet.

One final thought — Since the courts may decide to view the pet as property, it is important to be ready to compromise on other property demands in return for custody of your pet.

An experienced family law attorney can help you present your case as to the proper home for your pet and advise you on how to make sure your divorce does not also mean the loss of a beloved pet.

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