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Navigating Pet Custody After a Breakup or Divorce


Who gets to keep the pest after a breakup or divorce?

Divorcing or breaking up with a partner can be a stressful, emotionally draining, and challenging process for all parties involved. When a pet is involved, it can add a layer of complexity to an already difficult situation. Most couples who own a pet together think of the animal as a family member and share a deep attachment to it. So, when divorce or a breakup happens, it can signal the beginning of a battle over the pet’s custody.

What happens to the pet in a breakup? The answer depends on your unique situation. But regardless of the circumstances, there are only three possible outcomes:

  • You and your partner reach an agreement about who’ll keep the pets
  • You and your partner fail to work out an agreement and a court decides who keeps the pets
  • You and your partner agree to share custody

To make the transition for your pet easier, here’s everything you need to know about pet custody after a breakup in Florida.

Pet Custody Law in Florida

Upon the breakdown of a relationship or marriage, the decision as to who keeps the family pet is best left out of court. Most people treat their pet as a child or another family member, so emotions tend to run high in these cases.

Unfortunately, Florida law considers pets to be property, similar to a piece of furniture, a motorcycle, or a retirement account. As such, pets are not necessarily subject to support obligations, shared custody, or visitation rights, as would be the case with actual children. If the custody battle goes to court, the court will not consider the pet’s best interests as it would in a child custody case.

Instead, the decision will be based on the concept of equitable distribution. In divorce proceedings, property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally. When it comes to pets, the court will first look at ownership.

The person who bought or adopted the pet will usually get to keep it. If the pet is jointly owned, however, the court can order one partner to purchase the other partner’s interest. The court’s decision may have little or nothing to do with who’ll best love the pet.

The best way to navigate pet custody after a breakup or divorce is through discussions between separating couples or private mediation with a neutral party, if necessary.

Allowing One Party to Keep the Pet

Agreeing to have one of the partners keep the pet is hands-down the best option in terms of simplicity. The couple works out who’ll keep the pet and transfers ownership to that person. This agreement can be reached through negotiations or mediation.

The following are some of the factors that may be relevant to the discussion:

  • What’s in the best interest of the pet?
  • Does the pet have a closer bond with one of the parties?
  • Who is the primary caretaker?
  • Are there children involved, and will they live primarily in one household?
  • Has one of the parties contributed more to the pet’s care?
  • Who originally purchased or adopted the pet?
  • Who is the current registered owner?
  • Who is better positioned to afford treatment costs if the pet has a health condition?
  • Is one party’s home best suited for the pet’s well-being?

Once you’ve had your discussion and reached a pet custody agreement, you may want to make the agreement legally binding. Approaching negotiations or mediation in “good faith” will help minimize conflict and litigation in court.

This will involve:

  • Approaching conversations honestly and respectfully
  • Willingness to compromise and make an offer
  • Responding to communication in a timely manner
  • Genuinely considering the other party’s proposals
  • Considering the interests of the other party
  • Avoiding threats
  • Avoiding antagonistic or abusive communication
  • Taking a reasonable approach to dispute resolution

Agreeing to Share Custody of the Pet

If you and your ex-partners are on good terms and can communicate and reach an agreement, shared custody of the pet can work. Co-parenting with your ex can be worth it if you’re both committed to doing what’s best for your pet. You need to understand if the pet would do well in a two-home environment and come up with a plan that will work for everyone.

There are several benefits to sharing pet custody:

  • You can split the cost of food, vet bills, medication, and pet daycare
  • You’ll have a backup sitter
  • Your pet won’t experience the negative emotions of losing one of their humans

Shared custody, however, may not always be the best option for ex-partners after separation or divorce. Disagreements about the pet or other unrelated issues can result in stress and conflict down the road.

Work with an Attorney for Pet Custody Disputes

When dealing with custody issues after a breakup or divorce, it’s important to work with a knowledgeable and experienced animal rights attorney who can guide you through the legal process of pet custody in Florida. At The Goodwin Law Firm, we understand the emotional bond that exists between pet owners and their pets.

Our skilled lawyer has extensive experience in Florida pet custody cases and will work with you to come up with a pet custody agreement that considers your pet’s best interests as well as your individual needs. We offer litigation and mediation services to help resolve issues.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our Florida pet custody attorney.

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