When two people are getting divorced in Florida, and they have one or more minor children, a custody schedule (now known in Florida as a time-sharing schedule) must be established. Approximately 90-95% of all cases settle at some point (whether it is before the filing of a petition for divorce or after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for or even going through trial), and so the parties generally end up agreeing to a child time-sharing schedule. But in those times where they do not agree, a Florida family law judge will take the decision out of the hands of the parents and set a time-sharing schedule.
But divorce doesn’t only affect the children. It also affects the family pets. So will a Florida judge order a doggy (or kitty) custody schedule?
In short, the answer is no.
There was a 1995 case out of the First District Court of Appeals, Bennett v. Bennett, in which the trial court created a custody schedule for the parties’ dog. The Husband appealed. The Appellate court overturned the trial court’s decision and stated emphatically that, under Florida marriage and divorce law, a pet must be considered personal property. And like any other personal property, the pet must be given to one party or the other party, as it cannot be divided. The appeals court further stated that trial courts simply do not have the authority to create a custody or visitation schedule for personal property.
Bennett illustrates how all family law judges in Florida must treat pets. Though they recognize that people treat dogs and cats as members of the family, they simply do not have the authority to create a time-sharing schedule like they would with children.
But there is an alternative.
Divorcing spouses have the option of agreeing to a pet time-sharing schedule through a private form of dispute resolution such as collaborative divorce. I have had several clients who came to a pet custody agreement, and even decided on a “doggy support” obligation to take care of veterinary and other expenses. In order to engage in the collaborative process, the parties simply each need agree that they will both be represented by attorneys whose sole purpose is to help them reach an out-of-court settlement, and who will not be used to engage in contested court proceedings.
If you have questions regarding Florida divorce or the collaborative divorce process, schedule a consultation with The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0614 or by filling out our contact form.