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No Family Member Left Behind: Florida Law Provides Protection for Family Pets in Civil Injunctions for Protection Against Domestic Violence


by Victoria Sexton Esq. – Staff Attorney at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Inc.

It is undeniable, the bond between a pet and an owner is one of a kind. You experience many chapters of life with your pet loyally by your side. Some of your best memories involve your pet…. some of your worst memories too. They are there through the good days and the bad, always eager to comfort, provide a laugh, and even protect when necessary. Your pet truly is a cherished member of your family. It should not be surprising then that an estimated 48% of abused spouses delay leaving an abusive partner out of fear for their pets’ safety. It is chilling to think how many victims of domestic violence (DV) stay in dangerous, potentially fatal situations, out of concern for their pets’ safety and well-being. When we think about DV, our minds often think only of physical violence. While physical violence is a recognizable component of DV, DV involves more than just physical abuse. DV is about power and control. Physical control is just one spoke in the “Power and Control Wheel”. Abusers use diverse methods to control their victims including: physical, emotional, financial, and mental abuse. Abusers have no reservations about using family pets as a control mechanism. In fact, they often harm, or threaten to harm, the family pet in order to force their victim to stay or to do as the abuser demands. In severe cases, abusers have even killed the family pet to incite fear in their victims.

The use of family pets as a control mechanism by abusers has become so prevalent in DV cases that legislatures around the United States have stepped up and addressed the issue. In fact, a majority of states have enacted laws to protect family pets. On July 1, 2020, Florida joined the fight to protect family pets from DV abusers by amending the Florida Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence statute and forms. Now, victims may include their pets as protected members of the family. Final Judgments of Injunctions for Protection can provide relief including, “exclusive care, possession, or control” of the family pet “owned, possessed, harbored, kept, or held by Petitioner, Respondent, or a minor child residing in the residence or household of Petitioner or Respondent…Respondent shall have no contact with the following animal(s) and is prohibited from taking, transferring, concealing, encumbering, concealing, harming or otherwise disposing of the animal(s).” This pivotal change in the law was a significant step by the Florida Legislature to support victims and survivors seeking protection through the court system.

The inclusion of family pets in civil injunctions has positively changed how providers assist survivors and victims. As attorneys, family pets are now something we routinely address when representing survivors and victims of DV for their civil Injunctions for Protection. Our local DV shelter now accepts victims who have pets when applying for shelter. Some providers even provide safety planning for pets. Ultimately, we want to ensure all family members, furry or not, are protected from abuse or use as a way to control a victim of DV.

Victoria Sexton Esq. is a Staff Attorney at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Inc. Ms. Sexton primarily represents victims of human trafficking and domestic violence for their civil legal needs. For more information on Injunctions for Protection Against Domestic Violence, please contact us at 954-736-2400 or

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