Family Pets in a Florida Divorce
Getting divorced is often a difficult process whether you have been married for a short time or for what seems like a lifetime. There are many reasons that the divorce process in Florida and throughout the country produces anxiety and feelings of frustration. For some couples, there are minor children from the marriage, and the prospect of dissolving the marriage and dealing with matters of child custody and time-sharing can be problematic. For other couples, the prospect of dividing marital assets may become particularly contentious. And yet for other couples still, emotions run high during a divorce because of questions about how the court will handle family pets.
Who gets the pets in a divorce? And how does the court make this determination? In short, pets in Florida are considered property, and as such, they can be “divided” or “distributed” along with other marital assets. We will say more about how this works, and then we will provide you with some information about how other states handle pets and divorce that could benefit Floridians in the future.
Pets as Property in a Tampa Divorce
If you are getting divorced in Tampa and have a pet (or more than one pet) from your marriage, you should be prepared for the court to consider the pet as marital property and subject to division. Under Florida law (Fla. Stat. § 61.075), marital property is distributed according to a theory of equitable distribution. This means that property is divided equitably between the parties, or in a way that is fair to both of the parties. If you adopted or bought your pet after you got married, the court will look at the pet in the same way it would another piece of marital property that needs to be considered in the equation.
Under Florida law, the court takes into account “all relevant factors” for distribution marital property, including the following:
- Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage;
- Each spouse’s economic circumstances;
- Duration of the marriage;
- Interruption of either of the spouse’s careers or educational opportunities;
- Contribution of one spouse to the other spouse’s personal career or educational opportunity;
- Each spouse’s desire to retain any particular asset (which could include a pet);
- Contribution of each spouse to the acquisition or enhancement of marital assets;
- Desirability of either spouse to retain the marital home as a residence;
- Intentional dissipation, depletion, or destruction of marital assets related to the divorce; and/or
- Other factors necessary for equitable distribution.
If the parties can come to a property settlement agreement that includes plan for who will keep the pet, then the court will not need to make this decision. Otherwise, the court will consider any of the relevant factors listed above, as well as any additional factors that could be relevant to an equitable distribution of the marital property, including pets.
If the pet can be classified as separate property—for example, if one of the spouses owned the pet prior to the marriage—it may be possible to keep the pet out of the divorce proceedings altogether and for that spouse to retain “possession” of the pet.
Changing the Way Pets Are Handled in a Divorce
Florida, like many other states, treats pets as property for the purposes of asset division in a divorce. However, there are a number of states that actually allow courts to treat pets more like children. In these states, the parties can share custody of the pet, and the pet may travel between homes according to a schedule much like a minor child from the marriage. Alaska was the first state to create and implement a pet custody law. Earlier this year, Illinois did the same.
A number of other states are also considering the possibility of a pet custody law. While there are no immediate plans to change Florida law with regard to pets and divorce, the shift to pet custody in other states is something to consider.
Contact a Divorce Attorney in Tampa, Florida
Do you have questions about the distribution of marital assets, or questions about pets and divorce more specifically? A Tampa divorce lawyer can speak with you today about your case. Contact Bubley & Bubley, P.A. for more information about how we can assist you.