More than ever, people consider their pets family. They’ve nurtured them, potty-trained them, and often times rescued them. There’s a deep emotional bond that stems from a decade or more of shared life events together. In some cases, divorcing couples don’t have children; their pet is their child. Most couples would assume that courts recognize the deep emotional investment parties have made in the relationship with their pet.
Can't we just share the pet?
Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case. In only a few states, such as Illinois, Alaska, and now California, laws have been updated to treat the division of pets as more than just property. Some states have pending legislation. But for most states, separating pet parents are left to find that their pet is treated like any other piece of furniture. In the typical property division, only one person walks away with the item. You can’t split a dresser in two, or split the proverbial baby, so every item is assigned a dollar value. That value given to one party must be off-set by the same or similar value to the other party. Imagine how crushing it would be to know that you’ve raised a pet for the greater part of a decade, only to realize you won’t get to live with that pet anymore. Instead, you’ll get the backyard patio set and your partner will get the family dog.
So how does it work in Florida?
So exactly how does Florida treat pets in a divorce? As outline above, Florida considers them property subject to the equitable distribution laws in a divorce. If the parties had a pre-nuptial agreement (or post-nuptial agreement) outlining how the pet would be treated upon divorce, that would be the controlling order. However, what happens to those couples who didn’t account for divorce? Most likely, the court would assign the pet to one party, and off-set that value with another item of property assigned to the other party. In fact, in the case of Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995), the First District Court of Appeal addressed this issue squarely, clearly defining pets as personal property, and limiting the court’s enforcement abilities post-dissolution.
If there's a will, there's a way
Most couples seek collaborative solutions to dividing their pet. If pet parents are serious about maintaining the relationship with their pet, they will find a way to come to an agreement so that the pet can remain in both of their lives. In Florida, Judges won’t enforce these agreements in court, but at least the parents can have some guiding principles. They can make decisions about how often the pet sees each party, who will bear the expenses of medical bills, and who will make major decisions about the care of the pet.
SupportPay Can Help
For parents who can agree to divide the responsibility of caring for their pet, both physically and financially, SupportPay is a perfect addition to the toolbox. The platform helps pet parents organize expenses associated with their pet and streamline communication. Even if pet parents don’t have a court order to enforce their visitation agreement, they can still use a platform like SupportPay to stay on track. This way, they can track expenses and reimbursements, and will ultimately be encouraged to collaborate. Just like any other form of co-parenting, the focus should always be away from conflict, instead on the child or pet.