Who Gets the Family Pet in a Divorce?

Puzzle pieces that include a dog

Today, our family pet seems like a member of the family rather than a piece of property. When going through a divorce, this differentiation can be very challenging as pets come with emotional attachments and are not seen as items of possession. However, in Florida divorce law pets are considered property. Therefore, judges do not make rulings on custody or timesharing of animals between divorcing couples. Ultimately, a judge will follow marital property law in order to conclude who gets the pet in a separation or divorce.

Each case differs when it comes to how property is handled in divorces. In Florida, the equitable distribution statute seeks to divide marital property in a way that is fair to both parties. Fair does not always imply that the shares are completely equal. When considering family pets during a divorce, whether or not the animal is marital or separate property is an important consideration. If the pet is marital property, then it is subject to equitable distribution.

Thus, the judge will distribute the family pet to just one of the parties because Florida divorce and marital property laws do not award shared custody or timesharing of animals. If both parties are attached to the family pet, then it may be best for the parties to come to an agreement on their own. If they are unable to do so, then the judge will make a ruling based on the equitable distribution statute and award the pet to one party.

Custody of a Family Pet Case

In 1995, there was a divorce case that dealt with custody of a pet between two parties in Florida. Bennett versus Bennett (Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109, 109–11 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1995) was a case between a divorcing husband and wife over the custody of their dog, Roddy. The court gave custody of the dog to Mr. Bennett, the husband and gave his former wife visitation rights. However, this trial court had no legal right to give visitation rights to the former Mrs. Bennett.

Mr. Bennett was displeased with the final ruling of the court and thought the court made a mistake in giving visitation rights to his former wife. And he wanted to amend the court’s rulings. The trial court had no legal authority to award visitation rights to the wife because the dog was subject to the equitable distribution statue and a piece of personal property. Under the Florida statute, a judge cannot order timesharing or custody of an animal.

Under Florida divorce law, family pets are property and treated thus under the Florida equitable distribution standard. If both parties want custody or timeshare with their pet(s) then it may be best for an agreement to be made outside of court. Due to the way the state of Florida views pets as property, judges cannot award timeshare or custody to either party. Because a pet is marital property, the equitable distribution standards will apply. The pet will be distributed fairly to one of the parties, just like the rest of the property in that case.