pet custody, who gets to keep the dog after divorce, equitable distribution

We value our pets as they are reliable, comforting, and considered family to many. If you follow @mccarttesmer on social media, you can tell we are animal lovers and think of our pets as family. But as much as we consider pets family, will a judge do the same?

Under Florida state law, domestic animals are considered property and are subject to equal distribution like any other joint assets. That means when a couple divorces, the court awards ownership of the pet to one of the parties in the same way courts address furniture, jewelry, and tools. Family pets are not treated the same as children. This means that despite how you may feel about your “fur baby,” the Court cannot create a custody or visitation agreement as it would a human child. 

Dividing property, including domestic animals, is determined through a process called equitable distribution. In the unique situation that your pet is a competing show animal or otherwise earns income, a Court could value the animal based on the revenue generated by the animal. In the event of this unique situation, Courts have awarded the animal to one spouse but divided the revenue between the parties (less any work the retaining spouse incurs as part of the competition process). This way, both parties continue to reap the benefits of pet ownership. However, if your family pet has no earning power, the Court can hear arguments from each owner to determine where the pet should go. 

A pet visitation schedule is not enforceable; therefore, a party seeking to keep a pet must make arguments in support of granting sole ownership to them. For example, suppose you owned your pet prior to marriage. In that case, you are more likely to be awarded them in the divorce, as they are considered pre-marital property or assets acquired before marriage. If another family member or friend gifted you the dog, you could argue again that the gifted pet is non-marital and should be awarded to you. If you primarily paid for the pet’s food, shelter, and grooming or attended the veterinarian appointments, you may be more likely to keep the pet to maintain its standard of care. 

For many of us, our pets provide a sense of home. A stable environment for your pet is important after a separation or divorce.

Here are some things to consider with regard to your pet when going through a divorce:

  • Will your financial abilities change after the divorce, and will you be able to financially afford to keep your pet? Consider the costs of annual vet appointments, medications, treats, and additional expenses.
  • Who was responsible for taking the pet to those appointments? Will this continue after the separation? 
  • Is the spouse requesting the pet in good health to take care of it? 
  • Who is the primary caregiver for the children? If the children have an emotional attachment to the pet, they are more likely to be granted the pet. 
  • Who spent the most time and effort taking care of the pet? 

So, what is a pet lover to do? Is there some way to control the outcome of these scenarios? Yes! Mediation is just one out-of-court option to settle distribution that you may be offered. In mediation, a third-party mediator helps each party and facilitates conversations about equitable distribution. They aim to help each spouse reach a mutual agreement and create a fair and just solution. Divorce is no one’s first option. But you don’t need to go through it alone. It is essential to speak with an experienced attorney. At McCart and Tesmer, you can trust us to fight for your precious pet. 

The attorneys at McCart and Tesmer enable their clients to reach constructive long-term outcomes. They understand the value of allowing clients to decide how their families will be restructured. If you are in need of guidance and protection for your dog from the court system, please contact the experienced attorneys at McCart & Tesmer at or call 813-498-2757 for a free consultation.

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