When a Florida couple has pets, the love and care that is provided is often similar to the love of a child. People spend enormous volumes of time, effort and money to care for their animals and often become incredibly attached. When a union ends in divorce, spouses can become deeply bitter over having to determine which party should retain “custody” of the pets. The matter falls outside the scope of traditional divorce issues such as property division or child custody.

Courts are not always willing to address disputes concerning pets. In many cases, family court judges who are faced with such arguments will simply tell the parties to go and work the matter out on their own. When judges are willing to discuss the issue, they resort to the rules that govern property division.

In this way, the party who can prove that he or she paid for an animal, covered the cost of veterinary care or purchased the bulk of food and toys will often prevail in court. That approach does not address which party would be better suited to actually care for the pets. While many people feel that pet “custody” should be approached in a manner similar to child custody, it is the rare judge who will entertain such arguments.

This leaves Florida pet owners with little recourse other than to try and work through the issue of pet ownership on their own. In some cases, divorcing spouses are able to work out a type of shared custody, where each party will have time with the animal and where expenses are shared. Often, however, the better solution is to look at the living arrangements of both parties and to make an objective decision about which household is better suited to provide for the needs of the pet. That approach is likely to yield a far better outcome than including the issue within the scope of property division.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, “In divorce, who gets to keep the family dog?“, Ben Steverman, May 1, 2016