Do you have a pet that you consider part of the family? Many people consider their pets as family, their “furry children”. Well, under Florida law, our fuzzy little friends are considered mere property not unlike a table or the flat screen TV. Florida courts will not order time sharing arrangements for pets, they are treated like personal property and as such are subject to equitable distribution meaning the Judge has the power to award the property i.e. Mittens the kitten and Tweetie the bird, to one spouse or the other. No time sharing, no puppy support.
So what is a good pet parent to do? Pet related decisions can be mutually agreed to by the parties and included in a Marital Settlement Agreement.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, on their own or through mediation, a judge will have to decide who is awarded ownership of your pets. The Judge will base her decision on the principles of equitable distribution. There are several points to be considered: (a) did one spouse own the pet before marriage; (b) which spouse would be better fit to permanently care for the pet; (c) which spouse will have children in the home, and choose to keep the pet with the children to provide stability for the children. Some judges may even consider the pet’s best interest, meaning, who has the financial ability, time and space for the pet; or who would be most reliable owner. Regardless, the judge will make ultimate decision as to which spouse gets the pet.
It is best if pet-related decisions are made between the parties, outside of the divorce proceedings, and include those decisions in property settlement. By mutual agreement, the parties can make arrangements for custody/shared custody and visitation with their pets. However, it is unlikely that a court would even uphold or enforce such an agreement. No matter how important a pet may be to the divorcing parties, the court will not get involved in negotiations regarding pet “custody”.
If you need help negotiating time with your furry kids I’d be happy to help, please contact Motsinger Law & Mediation for a consultation.