An interesting New York Law Journal, “Who Gets Custody of the Dog?” explores how New York courts have evolved from strictly treating family pets as property to recognizing their “Cherished Status accorded to pets in our society.” Through case law, New York family court judges have started focusing more on the circumstances as to how the family pet(s) was acquired, who provided the care and what the arrangement was when the couple separated. This is referred to as the “best for all concerned” standard.
If you are a Floridian, our courts have not gone in the same direction. In Florida, pets are considered “chattel” or personal property. Thus, if you are asking the court to resolve some sort of custody arrangement with your pet or pets, the court does not have jurisdiction to do so. It must instead order that your beloved dog, cat, fish or horse is the property of one party or the other.
How can you get around this? You and your soon-to-be-ex can contractually come up with an understanding as to sharing time and expenses of your pet, which will be included within your divorce agreement. The terms of the agreement will be enforceable by the court in the event there is a dispute.
Another issue that might come up, is when there is one or more pets with a “Service Animal” classification such as guide dog, emotional support dog, mobility assistance dog, seizure alert dog, autism support dog, allergy detection dog or psychiatric service dog, just to name a few.
There is no question that because such a high percentage of our population are devoted to and love their pets, I see this becoming more and more of an issue for years to come.