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Law Offices of Stephen K. Miller, P.A
 
You can have everything I own…but don’t take my dog!

You can have everything I own…but don’t take my dog!

Often times in a divorce, some of the most contentious issues involve the division of assets. According to Florida law, the distribution of marital assets and liabilities between the involved parties should be equal, unless there is a justification for unequal distribution based on designated relevant factors such as the economic circumstances of the parties and the duration of the marriage. But how does the court divide an asset that, well, can’t be divided? An example of this quandary lies in the "division" of the family pet when the marriage dissolves.

In one case, which was heard by the First District Court of Appeals in Florida, the Husband appealed a judgment of dissolution of marriage which awarded his Wife visitation with the parties’ dog. The initial agreement set in place after the final dissolution of marriage awarded the Husband custody of the dog, “Roddy,” but gave the Wife visitation rights every other weekend and every other Christmas. The Husband contested this decision, claiming that Roddy was a premarital asset. The Wife then requested that the trial court transfer custody of the dog, citing her ex’s unwillingness to comply with the visitation agreement.

Upon appeal, the District Court ruled that “while a dog may be considered by many to be a member of the family, under Florida law, animals are considered to be personal property.” Therefore, the trial court “lacked authority to order visitation with personal property,” as the issue would properly be dealt with through the equitable distribution process. Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109, 110 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995).

Under the guidelines of Florida Statute, Section 61.075 pertaining to the equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities, Roddy qualifies as a nonmarital asset because he was acquired by the Husband prior to the marriage. Florida law provides that each party shall be entitled to his/her non-marital assets before the division of marital assets. Therefore, in this case the Husband would be rightfully entitled to Roddy as a piece of personal property. However, this issue is even more complicated when the dog is considered a marital asset because he was purchased during the marriage or a gift from one spouse to the other.

You may think that the ruling was inhumane in its likening of precious pets to material goods, but the Court will draw a hard line with regard to pets being distributed the same as other personal property. A competent attorney can help you navigate the intricacies of the equitable distribution statute and get the best possible outcome based upon the facts and circumstances of your case. You only have one chance to fight for your Roddy!

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen K. Miller for a free consultation with one of our family law attorneys at (866) 496-8752 or via email at Info@ForYourLaw.com.

BY: Stephanie N. Mack, Board Certified Attorney in Marital & Family Law
May 30, 2012


 
 
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