May 19, 2016

Pets and Divorce, a Mismatch Between Emotion and Reality

pets and divorce


April 10 was National Pet Day.  There can be no doubt that most Americans love their pets.  All you have to do is look at the Facebook pages of your friends and family members, which show pictures of family dogs, cats or other adorable pet photos. We spend our free time with our pets; we feed them, train them, and interact with them.  They become a treasured part of our family unit and we develop deep emotional ties to them.

Pets and Divorce

Unfortunately, pets are not treated like a member of the family when a divorce occurs.  In Florida, like many other states, pets are treated by the court system as no more than another piece of property, something to be valued and distributed between divorcing spouses.  The treatment by the court system of our pets seems to be at odds or contradicts our deep emotional attachment to them.  However, there are methods by which one can attempt to persuade the court to have your family pet reside with you after a divorce.  Some of the considerations you may wish to argue before the court include: 

  1. Are there any records that demonstrate ownership of the pet? Did you buy the pet from a breeder?  If so, whose name is on the receipt? 
  1. If your dog is registered with the American Kennel Club, whose name is listed as the owner?; 
  1. Has there been any promise or agreement orally or in writing during the marriage regarding the ownership of the pet?; 

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  1. Where will the children reside? Our pets are generally purchased to be companions to our children.  If the children are going to live the majority of the time with one parent, then the pet should reside there; 
  1. If the children have a rotating or 50/50 timesharing schedule with their parents, should the pet travel back and forth with the children to each household? Considering the turmoil of many divorces upon the lives of younger children, this may be a remedy that provides them some comfort and stability during the upheaval of the divorce;
  1. Where will the animal thrive? What if one spouse does not have a yard or the residence does not permit animals?;
  1. Who is better capable at caring for the pet's needs? In other words, will the pet be left alone at home for the majority of the hours of each day?  If one parent will primarily stay-at-home, that residence may or may not be best for the pet's emotional wellbeing; 
  1. Who was responsible for the greatest share of meeting the pet's needs? For instance, in my household, I feed our rescue Pitbull, Delilah, I walk her; I play with her; and I reinforce her training.  Consequently, Delilah greets me at the door with a wagging tail and smiling mouth thinking that she's either going to get a treat or it may be time for a walk or to eat;
  1. Who spends more time with the pet? 
  1. Who takes the pet to the veterinarian for a treatment; who trains the pet and reinforces the training of the pet?

In some rare cases, divorcing couples will create a "timesharing/visitation" schedule, whereby the pet will travel back and forth between the divorced spouses.  This schedule is all well and good until the parties have a dispute over "timesharing/visitation" with Fido and then often rudely find out that the trial courts are not particularly interested in resolving a visitation/timesharing dispute involving a pet. 

It is clear that the majority of states treat pets no more as another piece of property during the course of the divorce.  However, there are various ways that a divorcing couple can deal with this issue and ensure that their pet receives the best outcome from the divorce. 



Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss divorce in Florida, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A.The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. or call 561-478-0312.


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