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Don’t Forget about the Family Pet in Your Divorce


With all the dramatic changes that divorce requires, it is easy to miss things until it turns into a bigger problem. Family pets are no longer seen as easily replaceable or expendable, and often play a vital role in the family dynamic. Spouses and children alike tend to be deeply attached to the pet, and do not want to lose this connection due to divorce. The new position animals hold for Americans can make this transition quite difficult, and the law does not always match the expectations everyone may have about how to arrange for the animal’s care. Custody of animals can become a very contentious issue and should not be left until the end to address. Further, spouses invested in finding an arrangement that will work for everyone need to form their own agreement, as the court is limited in how they can address and resolve this issue.

How the Law Views Pets

Families may look at pets as being almost equal in importance to children, and deserving of this level of consideration in divorce. The law, however, sees pets as property, meaning courts will not divide responsibilities for the care and expense of having the pet between spouses. Instead, the court will divide the animal as any other asset, with one spouse receiving possession, and the other the value of the animal in the form of money or equivalent additional assets. However, this does not mean a court does not understand and appreciate the complexities of addressing how to settle pet-related issues, and the following factors are often determinative of how a judge would decide which spouse should receive physical custody:

  • The value of the pet, which can be substantial for pure breeds and exotic animals, and additional assets may need to be relinquished to keep the animal;
  • If an animal serves as an emotional support or therapy animal for a spouse, that person would receive preference;
  • The ability of each spouse to financially and physically provide for the pet, such as income, work schedule, and housing situation; and
  • Which parent has the greater share of childcare duties, as children tend to have strong emotional attachments to pets and may suffer if separated.

Options for Creating an Agreement

Giving courts authority over the outcome of this issue is not optimal for most families, and the better route is to negotiate a shared pet custody arrangement. This will allow both parties to spend time with the pet, and could benefit both in the sense that expenses would be divided and not shouldered by one person. If children are involved, having the pet stay with them as they spend time in each parent’s household is often a good arrangement as a source of support and stability. Agreeing to a pet custody arrangement through negotiation or mediation brings the flexibility and creativity most families need to fully address the needs of each member and the pet.

Contact a Florida Divorce Attorney

The issues of divorce are challenging to face and resolve. If you are curious or concerned about what to expect in your divorce, talk to the experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. We know what must be addressed, and are here to guide you to the next phase of your life. Contact us today for a free consultation.




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