Approximately half of all American households are home to at least one pet. With a nationwide divorce rate that is currently hovering around 50 percent, “custody” battles over pets have reportedly increased significantly in the U.S. in recent years. A 2006 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found about one-quarter of attorneys polled reported seeing a rise in the number of divorce cases that involved a pet. Some believe the increase is due to the fact that many people now view their cat or dog as a member of their family.
To most people, their pet is much more than a mere possession. Society appears to be slowly changing to reflect this attitude. In New York, Maine, California, and Illinois, pets are treated as more than personal property in domestic violence situations. Law schools are increasingly teaching animal and pet rights courses. Additionally, pets are now included in U.S. government evacuation and disaster plans.
Unfortunately, pets are still viewed as personal property under Florida law. To a court, a dog or cat is viewed as property that is similar to a television or a piece of jewelry. In 1995, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal stated in Bennett v. Bennett that household pets are personal property and there is no basis in the law for granting visitation or custody for them. The court said that although many individuals consider pets to be members of their family, the court system was already overwhelmed with child visitation and custody awards and could not enforce similar awards for animals. The Bennett court also remanded the appellate case and directed the trial court to treat the family dog as personal property.
Unless a divorcing couple in Florida can reach a shared pet custody arrangement, a cat or dog will be treated like any other piece of property and awarded to one party or the other. Because of this, some divorcing spouses will give up large sums of money in a marital property settlement in order to keep a cat or dog. Sometimes, pets may also be used as a bargaining chip or tool for revenge in acrimonious divorce cases. Mediation, arbitration, or a negotiated divorce settlement agreement may make a divorce where pets are involved progress more smoothly. A qualified Miami divorce attorney can help.
Most family law matters can be resolved outside of court through a negotiated settlement. Postnuptial agreements such as marital settlement agreements may be entered into by married couples who are contemplating divorce or separation. A postnuptial agreement will normally address the disposition of pets, assets, and any agreed upon spousal support obligations. If you are considering dissolving your marriage, you are advised to contact a hardworking Aventura divorce lawyer early on in the process.