Sound like a crazy question? It’s not. Presently, Florida divorce law holds that a pet is property and part of an equitable distribution settlement at the finalization of a divorce. Why do I bring this up? On January 1st, California introduced a new law that places pets in the people category subject to visitation rights, feeding and care issues, even health related questions.
A party to a California divorce or separation may also ask the court to order who will care for a pet during the pendency of the proceedings. Notably, the statute does not limit the definition of “pet” to only cats and dogs.
Presumably, if a court can declare that divorcing spouses will jointly own a pet, the judge should be able to decide issues of pet custody and visitation necessary to coordinate the care of the joint living asset.
According to NBC News, California joins only Illinois and Alaska with similar laws.
Florida law is not as pet friendly
By contrast, Florida has no statute like California’s and only one court opinion of note has dealt with the issue — and that was not a state Supreme Court case.
In the 1995 case of Bennett v. Bennett, the District Court of Appeal of Florida in the First District, which includes Tallahassee, reversed a trial court order that had granted visitation privileges to the wife with the family’s dog, Roddy. The First District said that the court below did not have authority to “order visitation with personal property,” which Roddy legally was.
The court reasoned that the courts are already “overwhelmed” by enforcing custody and visitation of people’s children and it would be too much to also supervise family pets.
But who knows, we may one day see Florida law change to reflect the more progressive views of California. The reasoning behind the appellate court’s decision would hardly take a legal genius to subvert. Time will tell.