It is the experience of our Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators at Mediation of Coral Springs, Inc. that when parties are fighting over who gets the family pet(s), mediation can become a very emotional undertaking.
Florida Statutes Chapter 61 provides the statutory authority for Dissolution of Marriage in our state, but nowhere does it address the issue of how to divide the family pet(s). Case law in Florida has long determined that pets are treated as personal property. This means that unlike a child custody case, a Florida Family Law Court is unable to set a visitation schedule or a time-sharing plan with the family pet – the Judge’s only choice is to distribute the pet to a party as part of equitable distribution.
The problem with viewing a pet as being personal property doesn’t take into consideration the importance that pets play in a family’s life. Many people view a dog or a cat as an integral part of their family and grieve about the loss of a pet in the same manner as the loss of a relative or close friend.
Another problem is how do you value the pet? Is it the amount that you paid for the pet? While a purebred animal would have been quite expensive, an animal adopted from a rescue group would have less value. But to a loving pet owner, their pet cannot be valued. So just how does a Florida Family Law Judge determine how to distribute the pet(s)?
In many circumstances, a pet will have a stronger bond with one party over the other one. But how do you prove this at trial? Our Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators can’t imagine that a Florida Family Law Judge would allow the parties to bring a pet into the courtroom!!
However, since a Florida Family Law Judge is required to consider pet(s) as being personal property, parties to a divorce who are concerned about how their pet(s) are “distributed” should strongly consider mediating with our Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators so that they are able to come to an agreement on something that may be more palatable.
Mediation is much less adversarial than litigating a Florida Dissolution of Marriage case in a courtroom. At mediation, the spouses are able to fashion any agreement that they want when it comes to the equitable distribution of personal property; and unlike child related agreements, the Family Law Judge has to accept the agreement.
The two parties can agree to a have a visitation schedule with their pets; make an arrangement where the other party watches the pet(s) during vacations; or any other type of agreement.
If you have any questions about mediating your divorce case where there are pets involved, please feel free to contact Mediation of Coral Springs, Inc.