Will a Florida Judge Order a Doggy Custody Schedule?

When two people are getting divorced in Florida, and they have one or more minor children, a custody schedule (now known in Florida as a time-sharing schedule)  must be established.  Approximately 90-95% of all cases settle at some point (whether it is before the filing of a petition for divorce or after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for or even going through trial), and so the parties generally end up agreeing to a child time-sharing schedule.  But in those times where they do not agree, a Florida family law judge will take the decision out of the hands of the parents and set a time-sharing schedule.

But divorce doesn’t only affect the children.  It also affects the family pets.  So will a Florida judge order a doggy (or kitty) custody schedule?

In short, the answer is no.

There was a 1995 case out of the First District Court of Appeals, Bennett v. Bennett, in which the trial court created a custody schedule for the parties’ dog.  The Husband appealed.  The Appellate court overturned the trial court’s decision and stated emphatically that, under Florida marriage and divorce law, a pet must be considered personal property.  And like any other personal property, the pet must be given to one party or the other party, as it cannot be divided.  The appeals court further stated that trial courts simply do not have the authority to create a custody or visitation schedule for personal property.

Bennett illustrates how all family law judges in Florida must treat pets.  Though they recognize that people treat dogs and cats as members of the family, they simply do not have the authority to create a time-sharing schedule like they would with children.

But there is an alternative.

Divorcing spouses have the option of agreeing to a pet time-sharing schedule through a private form of dispute resolution such as collaborative divorce.  I have had several clients who came to a pet custody agreement, and even decided on a “doggy support” obligation to take care of veterinary and other expenses.  In order to engage in the collaborative process, the parties simply each need agree that they will both be represented by attorneys whose sole purpose is to help them reach an out-of-court settlement, and who will not be used to engage in contested court proceedings.

If you have questions regarding Florida divorce or the collaborative divorce process, schedule a consultation with The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0614 or by filling out our contact form.

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About Adam B. Cordover, Attorney-at-Law

Family Diplomacy is dedicated to helping clients restructure their families privately and respectfully. We practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce and family law, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services. We maintain this out-of-court practice because we strongly believe that family disputes should be resolved in a private conference room, not in a hostile and public courtroom environment. This unique perspective on family law stems back to Adam B. Cordover’s experience studying International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and abroad. Adam had the rare opportunity to work closely with ambassadors and diplomats from war-torn regions around the world. He traveled around the globe, learning from diplomatic leaders as they applied dispute resolution techniques to tackle seemingly impossible conflicts. It dawned on him: If these techniques can work in the complex world of International Relations, why not Domestic Relations and Family Law? This realization lead Adam to create an exclusively out-of-court practice and to bring a more peacemaking approach to family law. In his previous role as a litigation attorney, Adam witnessed parties experience the negative emotional and financial effects that long, drawn out divorce battles can have on families. As a result, Adam has become a strong proponent of the Collaborative Process, where a structure is put in place so that life’s hardest moments do not have to be any more difficult than necessary. A thought leader in the international collaborative law community, Adam successfully spearheaded an effort of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit to draft an administrative order safeguarding the principles of collaborative family law (just the fourth such administrative order in Florida). Adam has been featured in or interviewed about collaborative practice by the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Florida Bar News, NBC, Fox 13, Bay News 9, ABC Action News, The World of Collaborative Practice Magazine, and Spirit FM 90.5. Adam regularly speaks at professional and civic organizations locally and internationally regarding the collaborative process. Adam B. Cordover is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest interdisciplinary collaborative practice group with member attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties. Adam is also on the Executive Board and co-chair of the Research Committee of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida. Further, Adam is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. You can learn more about us and our services at www.FamilyDiplomacy.com. Attorney Adam B. Cordover is admitted to the Florida Bar and the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. His office is located at 412 East Madison Street, Suite 824, Tampa, Florida 33602.
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