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Pets And Visitation


For many years, divorcing couples have wanted to fight for “custody” of the family pet or pets; however, these couples were frustrated by the law.  As a general rule, legislation in all states has historically considered pets as property, just like couches and cars.  Thus, since pets are property, the court does not have authority or jurisdiction to establish custody and visitation as is customarily done with children.

Over the years, there have been random judgments entered in various states wherein judges have made exceptions and awarded custody and visitation.  Those judgments/orders remained in place primarily because they were not challenged.  Those that were challenged did not prevail.  For example, in 2002, a Pennsylvania Appellate Court set aside a “pet visitation judgment” because it ran afoul of the law.  The appellate court held that it was, “analogous to having visitation with a table or lamp.”  Again, pets have generally been considered as property in the eyes of the law

Despite decisions like this one and despite the long-settled law regarding pets, couples have continued to fight over pets in divorce cases.  As a result, the courts and legislatures have been listening.  They have begun to understand that pets are more like children than property.  There are special pets to assist handicapped children and adults, disabled veterans and single adults, including elderly adults.   There are also everyday pets who are simply loved and cared for, just like a child.  This can be for a childless family or a family where the children are bonded to the pets.  In sum, Courts are seeing that pets are important components of every household and therefore, should be treated as such, rather than being treated as property.

Again, judges often enter judgments that include consideration for pets but in these cases, judges have had to be crafty to accomplish the desired goals.  Although courts, attorneys and families all agree that pets should be given a higher priority in divorces, the law has been lagging behind. They have often just been considered as personal property.

Well, now that is changing.  Effective January 1, 2019, California passed legislation that will allow parties to petition the Court for custody and visitation of the family pet or pets.  The Court will evaluate factors such as who cares for the pet, the family dynamics of the pet, etc.  It sounds much like the Court is considering the “best interest” of the pets just as the Court would consider the best interest of a child.

Additionally, an Illinois Appellate Court defined a “pet owner” using the Animal Control Act. Under this legislation, an “owner” is defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or one who keeps or harbors an animal, has it in his or her care, or acts as its custodian.”  While this does not establish a visitation schedule, it acknowledges that certain criteria should be considered when making decisions regarding pets.

Either way, these cases represent a new trend of considering pets as more than personal property and hopefully, similar laws will be adopted in all states, including Florida.  We are a pet family and our pets are loved and cherished, so I understand the difficulty of losing a pet under any circumstance.  If this issue is important to you, make sure your legislator knows your position and support the adoption this type of law.

Contact Us for Legal Help

Contact an experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyer at the Lasky Law Firm today if you are concerned about who will get the family pet or any other divorce-related issue. Our professional lawyers have the skills and experience you need to get the best results. Contact us today at 904-399-1644 to schedule a consultation.


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