Dogs, Cats and Hamsters: Who Gets Custody of the Pet?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Monday, July 29, 2013.

Imagine you’ve been married for 12 years, but you don’t have children. During your marriage a child custody chocolate Labrador retriever named “Brownie” has been your close friend, guardian and constant companion – especially since your relationship with your spouse has soured.

The problem is your soon-to-be husband or wife feels the same way about Brownie.

So, who does a judge award Brownie to? Can a judge order a timesharing schedule? Any visits at all?

Clients often come to me with their concerns about pets in the divorce. In other common law countries, such as the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, we share a similar family law and love of pets.

According to a recent report, pets are increasingly being raised as an issue in separation:

Nearly one in 10 Australians have lost possession of a pet in a relationship breakdown.

About 15 per cent in one Australian survey participants wrongly believed the Family Court would make shared-custody arrangements for their pets.

“Particularly in childless marriages, the animals are really important and people find it difficult to understand why the court can’t deal with the emotional attachment.”

“The pets represent the family,” she said. “They’ve had animals that have replaced the child they couldn’t have.”

“You’re talking about really strong emotional bonds that get formed over time and so it’s not just ‘You keep the lounge room furniture and I’ll keep the bed’,” he said.

Your pet dog Brownie may be considered a member of the family, but under Florida law, Brownie is merely chattel – personal property to be divided in divorce. And a judge lacks authority to grant custody or award visitation or a timesharing schedule to personal property.

Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation.

Florida doesn’t because Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children, that courts cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.