Your Pets & Divorce
In Florida, pets are still considered personal property when it comes to equitable distribution in divorce. Parties are now drafting prenuptial custodial agreements for pet custody similar to child custody and support orders. In many states, dogs are assigned a monetary value based on property valuation and that includes Florida. The Plaintiff or party seeking to retain the dog would indicate what monthly expenses and upkeep are for the pet in the financial statement. Now, some couples are seeking a “prepup” or prenuptial agreement that indicates who will retain custody (possession) of the pet if they should divorce or break-up. If you have questions about pet custody or pet trusts, contact our estate and family law attorneys at Bubley & Bubley, P.A.
Determining Ownership & Pet Distribution
Because pets are still considered property, they are assigned a monetary value similar to real property or furnishings. This is inaccurate because pets have sentimental value and they are living animals with emotional attachment and feelings. Also, because a pet cannot be replaced, it seems unfair to classify him or her as property. Because of this, some courts arbitrarily determine ownership of the pet without considering all relevant factors, such as who cares for the pet on a daily basis, who purchased or adopted the pet, or who has more of an affinity for the pet. Unlike some more progressive states arranging for pet visitation rights, Florida does not currently recognize pet custody.
Unfortunately, once divorce is final, if your ex-spouse retains possession, they are not obligated to provide time for you to visit with your pet. If you are concerned about your pet’s welfare and want to ensure they are provided for, you have the option to draft a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement regarding custody/possession of the pet and name your pet in a trust created for their benefit. You can also try to determine possession amicably with your ex-spouse, but this is often easier said than done.
If you are just starting the estate planning process and want to ensure your pet is provided for after your passing, you can create a pet trust. In Florida, a pet trust contains provisions indicating who takes custody of the pet after the owner’s passing, what funds are set aside for the pet and for what purposes (doggy day spa, veterinarian bills, food, medication, etc.). The trust should also indicate who will execute it, such as an accountant, lawyer, family member or close friend. Fla. Stat. §736.0408 (2020). Usually a trust will also name an alternate executor in the event the first choice cannot serve or chooses not to. Most importantly, if the value assigned to the pet trust exceeds the costs required to maintain the pet’s lifestyle when the owner/creator of the trust was living, the remainder of excess funds are distributed to the decedent’s estate.
Schedule a Consultation Today
If you are in the midst of a contentious divorce and are fighting over custody of the family pets, you do not have to settle with accepting the loss of your pet. You also don’t have to agree to your ex-spouse taking the dog or cat that you owned and loved prior to entering into the relationship. Florida law still classified pets as tangible personal property. But, pets have intrinsic and sentimental value and cannot simply be replaced. If you need help arranging a pet trust, contact our Tampa family lawyers at Bubley & Bubley, P.A. We are conveniently located in Tampa serving the needs of clients throughout Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties Schedule a consultation today.