Many divorces involve heated custody battles regarding time-sharing with the children between the two parents. Florida law presumes that sharing time and fostering a relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the children, unless sufficient evidence is presented to the contrary. However, courts in Florida are significantly less concerned with the well-being of “children” of the furrier variety—namely pets, such as dogs and cats.
Dogs and cats often have very close relationships with their owners, much like a parent-child relationship. Often, couples who do not have children consider themselves parents of their pets. Therefore, if a couple divorces, the question often arises: How is time with the pet shared? While some states have laws regarding time-sharing of pets, Florida does not have any laws specifically addressing this issue.
Florida Courts Not Very Concerned About Pet Time-Sharing Determinations
In the 1990s, one Florida couple became involved in a fierce battle over the custody of their dog in the case of Bennett v. Bennett. The court gave the husband primary custody with visitation rights to the wife, however both parties filed numerous motions for modifications of the custody arrangements and took up a great amount of time in court. Finally, a Florida Court of Appeals decided that it is not a job for the courts to spend time deciding custody disputes over pets. The appellate court stated that courts have a difficult enough time resolving custody matters involving children, and they should not waste resources regarding pets. Instead, the decision stated courts should treat pets like any other type of marital property and divide ownership equitably.
Pets Often Treated as Property
Because Florida courts will generally not make pet custody decisions, pets are treated like marital property in a divorce. Because marital property is equitably divided between the spouses according to state law, the pet usually ends up solely with one spouse or the other. Since both spouses may have equally close relationships with a pet, they may each be willing to fight at length for possession of that pet. For this reason, pet ownership can lead to costly litigation in divorce cases.
If you and your spouse can come to your own agreement regarding sharing time with a pet, you may both get to spend continued time with the pet and the property determination will not be left up to the court. For this reason, it is always best for a divorcing couple to work on a compromise regarding pet time-sharing. If you are unable to come to a compromised agreement on your own, dispute resolution techniques such as mediation or collaborative divorce may assist you.
Pet custody is only one issue in a divorce that many couples do not foresee to be a contested matter. An experienced Boca Raton divorce attorney can help you negotiate to come to a favorable agreement so that you can continue to spend time with your beloved pet without the need for expensive litigation. If you are facing a divorce, call the law office of experienced attorney Alan R. Burton for assistance today.