Florida Divorce: Who Gets the Pets?
More than 65 percent of Florida households own at least one pet. In the event that a divorce occurs, many people are rightfully worried about what will happen to their animals. After all, cats, dogs and other pets are basically members of the family. While the friendship between a pet owner and an animal can be extremely strong, it is still important to remember that as far as Florida law is concerned, pets are property. This means that they are subject to the equitable distribution process. If you are considering legal separation in Florida, and you are worried about the custody of your pet, please contact an experienced Orlando divorce attorney who can help protect your legal rights.
The Legal Standard: Best Interests vs. Equitable Distribution
In issues involving child custody, Florida courts make decisions based on the best interests of the child. Under this standard, the well being of the child is the fundamental driving factor in any court decision. Many people feel that the fate of their pets should be treated in a similar way. While that argument is sensible, that is generally not how Florida law operates. Pets are viewed under the same standard as is any other type marital property. Essentially, courts will include pets as part of the calculation when assessing what is a ‘fair’ distribution of assets. There are couple of important takeaways here. First, if you can prove your pet was a nonmarital asset, you can retain full ownership. For example, if your pet was acquired prior to the marriage or as an individual gift, then your pet will not be subject to property distribution. However, for many married couples, pets are acquired together. This means that pets are shared assets, and it makes determinations of their custody extremely complex.
Negotiation May Be Your Best Strategy
If your pet qualifies as a shared asset, a Florida court will need to put a property value on your pet. Ultimately, the ‘economic value’ of your pet is totally detached from the real value of your pet. A pet’s value simply cannot be measured in dollars. Because there is such a disparity in the economic value and the real value of a pet, courts are generally ill equipped to handle pet custody issues. It is best, when possible, to resolve pet custody issues outside of the courtroom. If the custody of your pet is important to you, you need to speak to an attorney who has extensive experience handling divorce mediation and other collaborative divorce negotiation processes. Your attorney can help you and your partner try to find a mutually agreeable solution that is both fair to you and allows you to keep custody of the pet you cherish so deeply.
Contact Our Office Today
At the Law Offices of Steve W. Marsee, our compassionate family law team understands how difficult issues involving pets and divorce can be. We will work aggressively to help you retain ownership of your pet. Please do not hesitate to contact our office today at (407) 521-7171 to learn more about what our team can do for you. Our firm assists families going through divorce in Orlando and throughout Central Florida.