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When a married Florida couple heads to divorce court, most of their thoughts will be consumed with the general aspects of their split — things that any divorcing couple must think about. Asset division, debt division, child custody (if children are in the picture) and alimony are all part of the equation.

One thing that does not really get the attention it deserves, though, is pet custody. With nearly 70 percent of American households having a pet (according to the most recent US Census) and roughly 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, their is a significant chance that a married couple will have to deal with pet custody when they file for divorce.

Divorcing couples that have pets may think that the situation is akin to child custody. While it can be this way, if you and your spouse are so upset with each other that you can’t reach a pet custody agreement, then the courts will take over the issue. They will consider your pet a piece of property; and like any property division issue, a judge will want to get through this as quickly as possible so they can move on to other issues.

The judge will rule whether the pet is separate property or joint property. Separate property means that one spouse brought the pet into the marriage, or that one spouse bought the pet during the marriage with his or her money solely. In such a case, the pet will go to that spouse.

Joint property comes into play when both spouses pooled their finances to pay for the pet. If that is the case, a judge will need extra information to make a decision. Who provides primary care? Which spouse spends the most time walking and grooming the animal? Which spouse pays for pet supplies?

Sometimes, witness testimony can be done to give the judge a clearer picture of who deserves the pet in a joint property situation.

Source: East Bay Express, “How to Navigate Pet-Custody Battles,” Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013