Divorce can be acrimonious. Spouses often wrestle over who gets the family home, the timeshare in the Keys or even the big screen TV. But, what about the family dog or cat? If the parties are going to split custody of the kids, then why not share the family pet. In a first of its kind, Alaska lawmakers amended their divorce laws to consider the “well-being of the animal.” Alaska divorce courts can now determine the parties’ custody and visitation rights over the family pet as well as address it in protective orders. Interestingly, fish were singled out as being excluded from the law.
Long standing Florida law holds that pets are personal property, and courts have no authority to grant custody or visitation to personal property. Personal property is all property which is not land or buildings and fixtures permanently affixed to land. Animals have long been considered as personal property or chattel under common law. Unfortunately for animal owners, pets are treated just like the hutch, family china and silverware. If one party is awarded an item of personal property in a Florida divorce, the other will simply get half its value. That’s the way it’s always been, and I don’t see it changing in Florida any time soon.
The argument against refereeing custody of pets goes as follows. Courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation and support matters related to the protection of our children. They don’t have the personnel or resources to undertake the same responsibility as to animals.