Florida, like most other states, classifies pets as property. Accordingly, your pets are subject to the same rules as other types of property involved in your divorce. In most cases, you must first establish monetary value, and then the court can decide how to equitably distribute the property between you and your spouse. However, things are hardly ever so cut and dried when you have a pet.
For most people, pets are family, so their monetary value is irrelevant to the sentimental value they hold in your life. This makes it difficult for courts to make decisions. According to the Florida Bar Journal, there are three common approaches when pets are at the center of a custody dispute.
The court rules them personal property
When a court considers pets as personal property, it can also assign them a value when applicable, such as when a pet is a purebred animal. Resale value can also be a factor, such as how much the pet would cost if an owner or a pet store sold it. These considerations obviously do not do justice to the complex experience of pet ownership. As a result, the following approaches are becoming more common.
Someone wins custody
While pets are still legally a form of property, more states are also considering other factors when disputes arise. In some cases, courts have “awarded custody” of a pet to the spouse who is the animal’s primary caregiver, or the person the animal has the closest emotional attachment to. Some judges recognize that an animal is intrinsically different from other property, such as a lamp, due to the presence of physical and emotional needs.
The judge determines the pet’s best interests
The final approach looks only at the best interest of your pet, and the judge includes the decision in the final order. When pets are personal property, the court does not monitor whether spouses follow through on the decision. However, when a judge orders custody, courts are more likely to enforce decisions relating to custody and visitation. So, if you win custody, your spouse may receive visitation rights, and you must follow these.