A good many Floridians engaged in the divorce process have a beloved pet that has long been a central member of the family household.
It is par for the course to think in emotive terms regarding that animal. Legions of divorcing Florida spouses naturally think about what makes their cherished companion happiest and what will be in its best interests following a marital dissolution.
They might reasonably want to be apprised of this: Although a family judge might also be an animal lover, he or she may not be readily inclined to employ a “best interests” legal standard when tasked with determining the outcome for a pet in divorce.
Because under Florida’s legal scheme, an animal – regardless of how much it is loved and cared for – is … property.
That might sound callous, but it is true. We noted in a Quinn & Lynch blog post some time back that, “Pets are considered property under Florida law and fall under equitable distribution.” As such, a typical pet-linked outcome will mark full ownership for one divorcing spouse and no continuing legal rights or duties for the other.
Yet it doesn’t have to be so cut and dried or seemingly without regard for analysis of what truly does accord with all affected parties’ best interests – including those of the pet.
In fact, divorcing parties have ample discretion in fashioning a desired pet outcome when they engage in an out-of-court process and agreement. A collaborative process or mediated settlement can promote that (as can an estate planning document such as a pet trust). Additionally, a so-called “petnup” can spell out terms and conditions relevant to a pet’s post-divorce future.
Pets are beloved family members. There is much that can be done legally to avoid courtroom disputes and uncertain outcomes concerning them.