Most Florida spouses are aware that there are no laws in place to guide how pets are treated during a divorce. One state, however, recently passed legislation that will guide how judges approach the matter. In that state, pets will be treated more like children than property, and the best interests of the animals will be considered during property division.
This is a sharp departure from the manner in which courts have treated pet “custody” in recent years. For the most part, courts have declined to address the issue, and some couples have been turned away and directed to work the matter out on their own. In those cases where the court did look into the issue, the pets were largely treated as items of personal property. That meant that the party who initially purchased the animal or provided for its care was often granted the right to keep the pet after the divorce.
Now, however, couples in one state will be able to make a legal argument about what living arrangements would be best for their pets. Judges will examine what would be best for the pet’s well-being. When called for, judges could also rule that pets be shared between parties, in much the same way as child custody arrangements are laid out.
For some in Florida, the idea of pet “custody” would be a welcome change to the way that animals are currently treated in a divorce. While there are no similar laws on the books in Florida, that could change over time. There may come a day when pets are addressed differently than other matters during property division, and when legal arguments center more on what is better for Fluffy or Fido, and not on who paid more of the vet bills.
Source: The Huffington Post, “In Alaska, Divorce Courts Must Now Consider Pet Wellbeing“, Hilary Hanson, Jan. 26, 2017