Divorce can certainly be stressful. One of the key aspects of making the process smoother is to agree on how you will divide the assets and debts acquired during your marriage. The division recommendations can be reviewed with your attorney in mediation, or in a court of law and may include property, cars, investments and even pets. 

Florida Divorce Law & Pets

Florida considers pets property, like furniture, jewelry, and dishware, which is split 50-50. With multiple laws designed to identify the fair and equitable division of assets during a divorce and what custody arrangements are in the best interest of a child, there are no legal guidelines that specifically outline the best interest of your fur baby, even though most of us see our pets as a part of the family. There are many factors that a court could consider in pet custody if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse cannot come to a mutual agreement. The court may consider who has spent the most time taking care of the pet or if one partner is not financially able to take care of their needs. The time we share with our pets is wonderful, but remember, owning a pet can be costly with food, grooming, and veterinary care.

Pets & Medical Bills

Over Mother’s Day weekend, I was reminded of this fact when my cat decided to eat the lovely bouquet my family gave me, and we had to rush to urgent veterinary care. As I sat there waiting to ensure there were no signs of toxicity before we headed home, I could feel the weight of my Sunday emergency visit.

As with all the financial responsibility connected to marital property in the eyes of the law, this visit would have been considered marital debt and then divided up in a divorce decree or by the court. If you and your spouse are on good terms, there could be an opportunity to share custody and the financial burden of your four-legged friend even after the marriage is over. In addition to sharing expenses, shared care could include activities like walks, hikes, or caring for the pet when your ex travels. Shared care should also be considered if you have children whose time will be split between two homes. Having consistent access to the pet can lend itself to a smoother transition to their “new normal” and give ongoing emotional support to you, your child, and the pet. 

Divorce & Family Pet

Divorce is hard on everyone involved in a breakup, including pets. They feel safe and loved as part of our family, but they also react adversely to the disruption in their schedules with changes to their home, walk, and feeding schedules. Even though they cannot verbalize their confusion, taking special care of your pets during this time is essential. As with any family member, be sensitive to out-of-the-ordinary behavioral problems that may stem from separation anxiety or the anger and stress that surround their caregivers. 

Working together to decide a fair division of your marital assets, whether with four wheels or four legs, will help you move forward with your life. Pets provide comfort and companionship to a family, even if that family no longer looks the way it used to. So, consider what is best for your entire family when working through agreements about pets during a divorce, and then honor the terms after they are finalized. Just because the law in Florida considers your pet as property, those of us with pets know they are so much more than that.

Rebecca L. Palmer, Esq. is a Family & Marital Law attorney practicing in Orlando, FL. She is the at rebecca@rlplawgroup.com.