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Who Gets the Dog in Our Divorce?

For a couple facing divorce, it's expected that the parties will divide up their furniture, their money, and general household items at the end of their marriage. When it comes to the family dog, however, deciding who gets the pet is never an easy decision. While Florida law provides for the equitable division of real and personal property, the treatment of pets under the law isn't quite so simple.

As in most states, Florida law regards pets as personal property, like a chair or set of dishes. Therefore, pets in a Florida divorce are also subject to equitable distribution. Under Florida's equitable distribution laws, a judge has the authority to make a determination as to the division of property in the event of a divorce. Therefore, after the divorce, a pet will be owned by either one party of the other. Visitation rights or support payments will not be granted for the benefit of a pet.

For many couples, a family pet is loved like a child. While the Court will not grant shared custody of an animal, a divorcing couple can enter into a settlement of their own accord that will permit both parties to enjoy time with the pet. Since the parties to the divorce lived in the same home with the pet, they are in the best position to determine who will have time and space for the pet, and what is in the pet's best interest.

Unfortunately, pets are sometimes used as bargaining chips in contentious divorces, and spouses sometimes fight for ownership of the pets out of spite or to demonstrate control. In this event, mediation, arbitration, or negotiation can be used to solve this problem, and the services of an attorney can help in this situation.

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal ruled on the issue of pets as personal property in Bennett v. Bennett in 1995. The court held that, “[w]hile a dog may be considered by many to be a member of the family, under Florida law, animals are considered to be personal property. There is no authority that provides for a trial court to grant custody or visitation pertaining to personal property.” The court also pointed out that Florida courts are already overwhelmed with having to determine child custody, visitation, and support without further burdening them by introducing issues of pet custody.

If you are going through a divorce and have a pet, the assistance of an attorney can be very helpful in determining a fair settlement, and can help you agree to the best arrangement for you and your pet. Call The Bulger Firm at 904-608-3694 for your free consultation.

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