Who Gets the Dog?
About two years ago a well-received movie who gets the Dog gained the attention of many Americans. The theme of the movie revolved around a couple who had a beloved dog that neither was willing to part with because of their pending divorce. While the movie provided a great deal of humor, in reality, it isn’t funny when a couple desires a divorce but neither party wants to give up claim to a treasured dog. Since the movie, public awareness of the “who gets the dog” issue has increased and courts are being pressured into making the guidelines for the answer quite clear. As each state makes their own set of guidelines for divorce, as found in a state’s statutes, this blog will focus on the state of Florida for its example.
In Florida, hard as it may seem, no one “gets custody” of the family dog or any other pet for that matter. There are no timesharing rights awarded to dogs, Parental timesharing, for minor children only, states how many overnights will be for each parent and where the overnights will take place. This is determined during a mediation resulting in a marital settlement or by a judge in court. Terms such as custody and visitation are no longer used except in special situations where one parent or the other or even both are proven to be unfit to care for a minor child for reasons such as drug abuse, incarceration, domestic violence adjudications and/or child abuse adjudications, Then sole custody or third-party custody may be granted. Otherwise, both parents are expected to raise their child with equal input and time spent.
A dog is considered marital property, which is property which was obtained during the marriage. Florida is an equitable property state so marital property will be divided fairly but not necessarily equally. Again, the couple at mediation, required in Florida before a divorce case can be scheduled in court, can determine “who gets the dog” as part of their equitable division agreed upon and stated in the resulting marital settlement. If the case goes to court, a judge will decide “who gets the dog”. And, since this is an ownership issue, not a custody issue, there is no legal avenue for such rulings as visitation rights or overnights for the dog. Just as an antique piece of furniture will be awarded solely to only one of the parties, so will the dog be awarded to only one of the parties.
Therefore, should you be planning to get a divorce and you have a treasured pet such as a dog, it is vitally important you seek out an attorney with experience in helping a client retain ownership of their dog. He or she will know what type of proof will be needed to show why the dog should stay with the client, not the opposing party. This can be very tricky, so when choosing an attorney be sure and let him or her know prior to taking your case the importance of keeping your dog. Most attorney’s offer a free, initial, in office consultation where you can meet the attorney personally and discuss the very issue “who gets the dog”.