Who gets the dog?
Who gets the dog, or any other treasured pet, when there is to be a divorce? One would think that, since most pets are treated as a part of the family, the courts would also consider them as such. This would mean that visitation rights or timesharing rights, as time spent with minor children is now referred to, would be granted by the courts at the time of the final dissolution of the marriage. Unfortunately, in only four states is the possibility of court-ordered timesharing still a reality. Florida is not one of these states.
In Florida, pets are considered marital property and are to be divided equitably along with all the other marital property, assets, and debts. As Florida is an equitable, not equal, distribution state the couple in mediation or the judge in court must determine “who gets the dog”. If the other party hopes to spend time with the pet following the divorce the couple must work this out on their own.
In Florida, most jurisdictions require a mediation before a court date for a divorce can be set. If pets are involved as part of the dividing of marital property, it is most wise to try to come to a marital settlement agreeable to the court. This way, the couple can decide for themselves the party who will take the pet home. Often this is most difficult as both parties cherish the pet. However, one or the other will sometimes offer a trade such as “You can have Fido if I can have the family pleasure boat” The decision as to who gets the “dog” must be a part of the marital agreement for the court to approve the document.
Sometimes, if there is a pre or post marital agreement and there is a pet already a part of the relationship, it is wise to decide who would get the pet should there be a divorce and make this a part of the legal document. If, however, the pet is owned exclusively by one party and then brought into the marriage, just like a piece of furniture bought and owned prior to marriage by only one party, the pet is then considered non-marital property and will be kept by its owner following a divorce.
Once the divorce case reaches the courtroom, it will be up to the attorneys to present the best-case scenario to show their party is the one who should receive the pet as part of equitable distribution. Proof of who paid for the pet, who provided the most care and nurturing, and other considerations will be presented in hopes of convincing the judge to give the pet to his or her client. As this is the unfortunate way pet ownership is handled it is vitally important to discuss how important the pet is to you at the very beginning of your client-lawyer relationship.
For those living in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, or Orange counties in Florida or in New York or Washington DC, Attorney Grant Gisondo offers a free, initial, in-office consultation where he will answer your questions, including those about “who gets the dog?” as well as share how he can successfully guide you through a divorce. His office is in Palm Beach Gardens where his hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and, for new clients, on Saturday from 8:30 AM to 1:00 PM. His office number is (561) 530-4568 to call for an appointment.