Dividing the Family Pet

Couple marries. Couple is childless. Couple adopts pet. Couple is devoted to pet. Eight years later, one spouse files for divorce.

If you’re a pet lover, it is natural to wonder: which spouse will get “custody” of the pet and what visitation rights will the other spouse have?

But, at least for now, those questions will not be settled in Florida’s family courts.

Because in 1995, a Florida appeals court set aside pet custody and visitation orders entered by a trial court. The appellate court held that pets are just marital property, things, to be valued like knick knacks – and then divided between the couple based on their monetary value.

Neither the pet’s feelings nor the divorcing pet owners’ feelings nor what is best for the pet are part of the sterile formula for property division.

No Florida appellate court has re-visited this issue since 1995, so that remains the law in Florida. To tell the truth, Florida is in synch with most of the courts of the nation.

The day may come when the law will evolve. But that doesn’t help in family court now.

Today, divorcing pet owners heading to family court over this issue face the real possibility of a judge awarding their pet, rather arbitrarily, to one spouse – and balancing that award with an award to the other spouse of different property of equivalent monetary value.

Under current law, privately working out a fair and certain arrangement for the pet may be better for all concerned than taking chances in a court required to calculatingly “divide” the pet as just another one of the couple’s material possessions.