Domestic violence takes on many ugly forms and is almost always considered a serious criminal offense. While assault, battery, kidnapping, false imprisonment and any offense resulting in physical injury or death of a family or household member are the most common forms of domestic violence many perpetrators also threaten to harm or kill a family or household pet to exert control over their victims. Research shows that pet abuse is a significant domestic violence predictor.
To protect themselves from abuse or threats of abuse, a domestic violence victim may petition for a protective injunction. In Florida, a petitioner may allege that the respondent injured or killed a family pet as a basis for a domestic violence injunction. If the court finds the petitioner is in immediate and present danger of domestic violence, it may issue a temporary injunction, awarding the petitioner relief, including temporary exclusive use and possession of a shared residence and up to 100% time-sharing of a minor child. Following a hearing, the court may issue a permanent injunction and award relief it deems necessary to protect the petitioner.
However, Florida law does not expressly authorize a court to grant a petitioner the exclusive care, custody, and control of a pet, to order a respondent to have no contact with a pet; or to prohibit a respondent from threatening to harm or harming a pet. Without express authorization to order relief pertaining to pets, a court issuing a domestic violence injunction may believe they lack the authority to do so.
House Bill 241 expressly authorizes a court issuing a domestic violence injunction to: award the petitioner the exclusive care, possession, or control of an animal that the petitioner, respondent, or a minor child residing in the home of either party owns, possesses, harbors, keeps, or holds, except an animal owned primarily for a bonafide agricultural purpose or a service animal, if the respondent is the service animal’s handler; order the respondent to have no contact with the animal; and prohibits the respondent from taking, transferring, encumbering, concealing, harming or otherwise disposing of the animal.
The essence of this legislation is so that people don’t stay in abusive relationships out of fear that the family pet may be harmed or killed by a perpetrator of domestic violence, which was my motivation for sponsoring this bill. I am pleased that Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law the Senate companion bill (SB 1082), which passed in both the House and the Senate.
The signing of this legislation could and most probably will lead to saving lives, including beloved family pets.