Most in Sarasota would likely agree that going into a divorce, one of the most potentially contentious issues a couple will deal with is the custody of their children. Family matters often involve a great deal of emotion, yet it should be remembered that parents and children do not always make up the entirety of a family. What about a couple's pets? Oftentimes, they are also viewed as being part of family. How, then, does the court determine who gets custody of them?
Some might think that pet custody is dealt with in much the same way that courts determine who gets the kids. Yet an important element of child custody cases is missing from those involving the custody of pets: the best interests of those involved. While animals may indeed be able to demonstrate emotion, actually understanding their best interests (short of demonstrable evidence of abuse or neglect) is virtually impossible. Thus, as the Animal Legal Defense Fund verifies, pets are considered to be personal property.
How does this fact impact pet custody? Rather than looking at such a matter in terms of custody, the court views it as a case of ownership. Pets are determined to be either separate or marital property. If they are marital property, then it is left to the divorcing couple to determine how to handle joint ownership. Issues such as custodial time or expense sharing are not determined (or enforced) by the court.
The custody of pets may seem to be a small issue compared to the large elements of divorce cases, yet it is something that is arising in more and more divorce cases. Per the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 30 percent of its membership has seen a rise in pet custody disputes in the last few years.