I Have A Dog in This Fight: Pets During a Divorce
By: Brusca Law
Pets are a part of our family much like our children. Unfortunately for pets, the Courts do not consider them to be anything more than personal property. Our clients ask about their pets, and what can be done to protect them during a divorce. The sad truth is that for many, pets are used as leverage to manipulate the other and possibly even the children during a divorce. Courts in Florida have been consistent in finding that pets are property, and just like other property in a marital estate, and they should be equitably divided.
If a pet was acquired before or during the marriage, the Court will determine where the pet will go based on the following factors:
· When was the pet purchased? Before, during, or after the marriage?
· Did one party care for the pet more so than the other party?
· Does the family have children that have strong emotional bonds to the pet?
· Are there medical issues with the pet (allergies, cancer, disabilities) that one party is better able to address (both emotionally and financially) versus the other party?
· Does one party have the ability to spend more time with the pet than the other?
Courts in Florida have already set a precedent that pet visitation or time sharing schedules, either agreed to or granted by a court, are not enforceable in later court proceedings. See Bennett v. Bennett, a 1995 5th District Court of Appeals case, that established the precedent regarding the enforcement of dog custody issues.
Although not enforceable in Court, parties will sometimes develop a visitation or time-sharing schedule with the pets and share in the responsibility of caring for the pets. For some couples, the pets were treated like children during the marriage and they remain the primary focus post divorce—in these instances, a visitation or time-sharing schedule may be foreseeable in the future. For others, disaster can ensue when you agree to a time-sharing plan with the pets, and agree to share expenses. Typically there are only two options for you when dealing with the pets: either you decide (usually at Mediation) or the Court will decide what happens to the pet.
You might want to consider the following when developing agreements regarding the animals:
· Will the other party be allowed to enter my home when I am not there to care for the pet?
· Who will pay for pet daycare and for medical treatments for the pet?
· What happens if the pet experiences separation anxiety as a result of the change?
· How will you deal with end of life decisions for the pet and the veterinarian?
Pet custody disputes are commonplace in divorces these days. If you think your pet might be used as leverage during the divorce, contact Brusca Law to learn more about what you can do. Brusca Law offers free consultations, which you can schedule by calling 407-501-6564, or by filling out the contact form on home page of our website.