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Pets Are Family Too!

ByThe Spence Law Firm Feb. 24, 2019

In news, California just passed a law that requires judges to treat family pets the same as children in a divorce proceeding. Florida does not have a “pet custody” statute. Divorce attorneys will now argue that the same type of “custody analysis” used to determine the custody of children in a divorce proceeding should be used to determine custody of pets. Historically, pets and other animals owned by couples who are divorcing have been treated as personal property. The owner of the pet kept the pet, or the couple had to engage in “horse trading” (so to speak) to determine who ended up with the pet(s). Example: You take the bedroom furniture and the patio furniture, and I get the dog.

Historical Treatment of Pets In Orlando Divorce Cases

The default distribution of personal property in an Orlando divorce, most attorneys will tell you, is typically 50/50. Such a distribution scheme does not lend itself to “distributing” family pet(s), as it does not take into account the emotional, family type involvement of a pet relationship. Starting January 1, 2019, California family court judges will now hear disputed pet custody cases as part of a divorce case, and apply a similar “best interest of the child/ pet” analysis. California is now the third state to codify the best interest of the pet standard in divorce cases and allow the court to award custody of a family pet in a divorce case. Alaska passed the first such law in 2017 and Illinois passed a similar law in 2018. The operative provisions of California’s new law, California Family Code section 2605 state: (a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal. (b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal. So the new statute allows a California court to order one party to care for the family pet(s) during the pendency of the action, without prejudice to the court’s ability to later assign sole or joint ownership of the pet. In essence, it allows the court to enter appropriate orders during the pendency of the case, and then enter a final judgment at the end of the case, just like in any other family matter.

Contested Pet Custody in Orlando Divorce Cases

Divorce attorneys in Orlando and elsewhere who are involved in a pet custody dispute can expect that the judge would want to hear the parties submit evidence in favor of their client showing:

  • Who walks the pet;

  • Who plays with/entertains the pet;

  • Who cleans up for the pet;

  • Who feeds the pet; and

  • Who takes the pet to vet appointments.

The court can then award custody of the pet to either parent individually, or to both parents jointly, and can even order a pet timesharing plan, just like the court would for a child. Such a pet timesharing plan would address the various issues impacting the quality of life for the pet such as making sure the pet has, among other things, shelter, food, water, exercise and veterinary care. The court’s judgment regarding the pet and its timesharing plan would be enforceable through contempt, just like any other provision of the final judgment. What do you think, should Florida require judges to determine pet custody like child custody? Also check out our annual end of year round up on alimony law.