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Pet ownership disputes common in divorce

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2021 | Divorce |

Many important family law decisions have to be made when a Florida couple is divorcing. Couples find themselves going from a single home with joint ownership and custody to two different houses with split property. Parents share physical and legal custody of children, as decided by the court or parents themselves. But what happens to the family pet remains contentious. Most courts do not make pet ownership decisions based on their well-being. Instead, they are treated as property to be divided between couples. And this can lead to long court battles.

Pet ownership increasing

According to some estimates, 56% to 65% of households across the country own pets. A majority of these pets are owned by millennials, who are treating the pets as their children. Given the 2018 birth rate was the lowest it has been in more than 30 years, this does not come as a surprise. About 70% of 1139 millennial pet owners surveyed claimed they would leave work early if they could to take care of a new pet. Most of the them, regardless of gender, considered their pets their fur baby.

Pet ownership after divorce

Given the lack of legislation in the area, couples try to arrange pet custody and visitation schedules themselves. When they are unable to, the court steps in to make the decision. However, courts do not make these decisions based on the animal’s wellbeing or the attachment each person has with the pet. Instead, the pets are treated as property and either awarded to the person who owned them prior to getting married or the person who’s name is on the adoption papers.

Some states are enacting laws that acknowledge the bond between pets and their owners. Until then, couples often have to go through the added pain of being separated from a beloved pet at the time when a pet’s comfort would be most needed. An experienced attorney can try working out a custody and visitation schedule for a divorcing couple, or advocate for one’s rights in court, if the need be. It might be beneficial to consult one to ensure a pet’s best interests are kept at the forefront of any custody decision.