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How to Get Custody of a Dog


How do you get custody of your dog after a relationship ends?

Divorce or breakup inevitably comes with the splitting up of possessions. Spouses fight over property and assets. When children are involved, the parents may take the long road to fighting for primary physical custody.

But what happens when a couple has a shared dog? Who gets custody of the dog? Can a court determine custody in a contested case?

One important thing to understand is that only one person will end up with the dog after separation or divorce. Pets are considered property, so they’re not subject to visitation rights or support, as you’d find with children. So, it’s better for you to try to come up with a pet custody plan with your former partner without involving the courts.

Florida Pet Custody Laws

As noted above, legal custody of a pet is not the same as child custody. While you may view your pet as part of the family and as a living being with emotions that need to be considered, Florida law considers pets to be personal property. You wouldn’t put your dog in the same category as an antique watch, but the courts do.

In a simple breakup, the person who bought or adopted the animal typically gets to keep possession. But if the dog was a gift to the other partner, the recipient gets to keep the dog.

Dog custody in a divorce case is a little more complicated. If the divorcing couple cannot resolve their differences over dog custody, they will have a judge decide for them. Since the dog is treated as property, it is subject to equitable distribution along with other property and assets the couple owns.

As such, the court will be limited in the extent to which it will hear each party’s arguments regarding their emotional attachment to the dog, their ability to care for the dog, and the animal’s needs. It’s even more likely that the court will not hear these arguments at all.

The court will use equitable distribution laws to arrive at the most equitable (fair, not necessarily equal) outcome for both spouses. Thus, custody may have little or nothing to do with the dog’s best interests.

It’s also worth noting that shared custody or visitation rights that apply to children after divorce or breakup do not apply to dogs or other family pets in Florida.

How to Get Custody of a Dog?

Negotiate with Your Former Partner

Working out an agreement about who will keep the dog is the best option in terms of simplicity. You and your ex-partner can use mediation or any other form of alternative dispute resolution to reach a dog custody agreement. You could schedule a meeting in a neutral location where the two of you can talk about the issues involved. Remember to keep the conversation civil, use a rational approach, make an effort to listen, and avoid insulting the other person.

Some of the factors to discuss include:

  • The dog’s best interests
  • Current registered owner
  • The dog’s attachment or close bond to one of the parties
  • Children and their relationship to the dog
  • Who the primary caretaker is
  • Who has the most time to properly care for the dog after separation
  • The condition and location of each partner’s home and its suitability to the dog’s wellbeing
  • The dog’s health condition
  • Number of dogs involved

Based on your negotiation, you could decide to give full custody to one person or have one person take custody and give the other visitation rights. If you’re able to come to an agreement through mediation, sign a written agreement reflecting everything discussed.

Work with a Pet Rights Attorney

Reaching an agreement after a breakup or divorce can be easier said than done. It’s common for emotions to run high in such cases. Separated couples can fight over little things like who gets to keep the stand mixer or bedside lamp, let alone who’ll keep the dog.

Working with an animal rights attorney can help minimize conflict and avoid litigation in court. A lawyer can provide pet legal advice and guidance, helping you navigate where to compromise with your spouse and get the best chance to keep the dog.

Contact the Florida Pet Rights Attorney at The Goodwin Firm

Here at The Goodwin Firm, our pet rights attorney understands how complicated pet issues can be after divorce or separation. If keeping your dog is important to you, but your ex-partner is also vying for custody, our attorneys can help you create and enforce a custody plan.

We can offer pointers for mediation and help you negotiate with your spouse to reach the best possible outcome. Our Florida animal rights attorney can also prepare strong, concise arguments and represent you in court, if necessary. Contact us today!

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