Every individual contemplating divorce in Florida will have their own personal priorities. If you have young children, an equitable custody arrangement with liberal time-sharing allocations to you may be your primary focus. If you started a small business during the marriage, maintaining ownership of the company could be your biggest concern.
For many couples, companion animals or pets will be a major complicating factor as they consider divorce. An animal can significantly enrich your life, but sharing a pet can also lead to heated disputes during divorce proceedings. Will a Florida family law judge hear your case and arrange for shared pet custody in your divorce?
Florida judges will not treat pets like people
There is no Florida statute empowering judges to hear custody cases related to pets. Animals are simply property in the eyes of the family courts. While they may be valuable members of your family that you deeply love, a judge will simply view them as an asset with a fixed financial value.
Unless one of you can show that the pet is your separate property, the judge will decide who keeps the animal. The pet will have a financial value and that value can impact other property division choices. The judge will not propose a schedule for shared custody or give the other spouse the right to visitation.
Custody matters require a lot of time and effort, and the Florida family courts are already nearly overwhelmed with demand for hearings. Adding contentious pet disputes to the docket would only increase the strain on the family courts, so unless state law changes, pets will remain property in disputed divorces.
You can negotiate your own terms
If both of you deeply love your dog or cat, you may be able to reach your own solution that involves exchanging pet custody or possibly allowing for visitation with the animal after the divorce. These arrangements can be part of an uncontested divorce that you proposed to the courts. However, you may have a difficult time enforcing such arrangements if your spouse later refuses to abide by them.
Being realistic about your options when considering a Florida divorce can help you handle the most emotional topics with grace and dignity.