What You Should Know About Fighting for Furry Family Members

family pet in a divorceAlthough many families consider pets to be a part of the family, most family law courts do not share the same views. In the eyes of the court, there is no difference in a divorce between a dog and the furniture, cars, and silverware. While this may be the case, more and more individuals are getting into heated legal battles over custody of the family pets and some are even fighting for visitation rights. Before getting weighed down in a battle over the family pet, here is what you should know.

Family Pets and Divorce Court

One example of how family pets are handled by the court occurred in 1995 at Florida’s First District Court of Appeals. The specific case that decided pet visitation rights in Florida, for example, was Bennett v. Bennett (655 So2d 109 (Fla.App. 1 Dist., 1995). The case was  A woman was granted visitation rights for the family dog during a divorce case while the ex-husband retained custody of the animal since it was considered an asset he had brought into the relationship prior to the marriage. The woman brought the case back to court stating that the ex-husband was not allowing her to visit the animal in the manner outlined in the agreement.

The courts original order granted the husband with primary possession of their dog, “Roddy.” The trial court held, in its decision after a hearing, that “the former husband, Ronald Gregory Bennett, shall have custody of the parties’ dog “Roddy” and the former wife, Kathryn R. Bennett shall have visitation every other month beginning October 1, 1883. the visitation shall begin on the first day of the month and end on the last day of the month.”  

The husband appealed the decision of the trial court and the case went before the appellate court where the trial court’s decision was overturned and reversed.

 

Florida’s First District Court of Appeals did not enforce the woman’s rights as a dog parent and denied that those rights existed meaning they would not enforce the agreement. The decision by the appeals court reads “as personal property, dogs must be awarded pursuant to dictates of equitable distribution statute. Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the … protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

Even though people don’t think about a pet as a piece of furniture, the court system does. And because you cannot get a visitation order to spend time with your old couch, a judge does not have the authority to order visitation with a pet in most states.

 

When Custody of the Pet Isn’t About the Pet

In some cases, divorcing couples use custody of a pet as a means of hurting the other party or holding some type of power in the situation. A former spouse who takes the other party to court over and over again to hash out visitation issues, paying veterinary bills, and the like are often more interested in controlling their ex than they are about having and caring for the family pet. Legal battles over beloved family pets can often be just as emotional as custody battles for children. Since this is the case, make sure you have the financial stability and interest in taking care of the pet before going to court. This is essential when it comes to dealing with who gets the pet in a divorce.

There are instances where the family pet may be a huge expense and where the control over the pet is a matter of thousands of dollars. For example, people may own a horse, which could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. And besides being worth thousands of dollars, animals like horses cost hundreds of dollars per month in boarding fees and food. In this instance, the court will have a big decision to make regarding who gets control of the pet but the court will still not grant the spouses visitation rights.

Pets Need to Cope with Divorce Too

Just as children need to be adjusted to life after divorce, in some cases, family pets struggle with divorce. It is important to look for signs of stress in the pet such as loss of appetite, anxiety, whining or crying often, sleeping excessively, and having bathroom accidents in the home. Make sure you and the other party think clearly and make a rational decision about who should keep the family pet – consider its needs and how meeting those needs will fit into your life as a newly single person.

Some states are now beginning to recognize the importance of a pet in a person’s life, and now grants some type of visitation rights to each spouse. However, the vast majority of states do not allow for this type of post-divorce pet sharing. Want to know what your state thinks about this issue? Fill out the form on the side of this page and speak to a local divorce professional who can help!

2 thoughts on “Who Gets the Family Pet in a Divorce?”

  1. I bought 2 cats before we got married. Now we are separated and he wants to keep one of them. Granted, one of the cats really bonded with him over the past 3 years, but should i get them both?

    1. Because pets are treated like property, and because you purchased the cats prior to the marriage, both animals should stay with you post-divorce. Family law rules in most states would also not allow visitation with the cats by your soon to be ex husband. However, because of the bond that one of your cats has made with your husband, it may be most beneficial to that pets well-being that it be placed with your husband. This is a decision only you can make, and although it may be sad to let one of your cats leave your home, if you believe it is the right thing to do once your husband moves out of the house, and that the cat will be upset at him leaving, you may want to consider letting him have that cat for himself. This can also be a great way to attempt to work out a settlement with your husband, because it shows that you are not being selfish but instead are doing what you believe is best for your pet and that you are willing to compromise on things. Good luck with your decision!

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