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Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet in a Divorce

Published: Feb 24, 2017 in Divorce

Written by Anthony Piccirilli

Divorce is hard for everyone, but as an adult, you must separate your emotional and financial issues from your former spouse and your children must learn to thrive in two different homes. It is definitely a significant adjustment. What can make the transition harder – or easier – is how you handle the family pet. In addition to topics like child custody and support, you need to determine who will be responsible for caring for the pet and where he or she will live post -divorce.

A disagreement about the dog, cat, or family goldfish can be difficult to reconcile and might even lead you and your spouse to let the court decide the matter. This can be hard if you are the type of person who considers the animal to be part of the family. However, there is another option. An experienced and compassionate Pittsburgh divorce lawyer from Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC can help you decide how to handle the family pet, including setting up a custody arrangement.

Call us today at (412) 471-5100 to learn more about pets in a divorce.

Custody of Children and Pets

Pets are not treated the same way as your children under Pennsylvania law, even if you look at your pet as another child. Pennsylvania courts will determine child custody based on a number of factors and with a concentration on what is best for the kids. Meanwhile, pets are deemed personal property. The court will not look at what is best for the pet as an emotional and living creature in determining future ownership. Instead, a judge will look at your pet as an inanimate object that is to be divided as part of the marital estate, like your furniture.

This stance feels harsh, and many judges have sympathy for individuals seeking custody or special arrangements for their pets. Unfortunately, the law is clear on the matter. Your pet is property that needs to be distributed between you and your spouse equitably. Since your pet cannot be divided in half, whether it goes to you or your spouse can depend on several aspects.

Who Gets the Pet?

If you or your spouse owned the pet prior to your relationship or marriage, then the pet may not be part of the marital estate. You or your spouse may have a right to the pet as your or his or her own personal property. However, if you bought or adopted the pet together during the marriage, then it is part of the marital estate. The court will consider a number of factors in determining where the pet goes including who paid the purchase or adoption fee and who was financially responsible for the pet’s daily and veterinary care.

Courts in Pennsylvania have historically looked to the individual who has been mostly financially responsible for the pet. However, some judges may be swayed by other issues, such as who has been the primary caregiver for the animal, who has the most interest in keeping the pet, and which parent will have the children the most if the kids are attached to the pet. Whether or not these arguments will sway a judge will depend on the circumstances. A compassionate attorney can do his or her best to argue for the pet to go to the best home and not simply to the person who paid the bills.

Is a Custody Arrangement Possible?

There is another way you can work out the issue of your family pet and that is through a custom custody agreement. However, it is important to know that a Pennsylvania court will not uphold this type of contract since your pet is still considered property. There is no such thing as a custody arrangement for a car or a painting, likewise, there cannot be one for a family pet. It would only be an informal agreement between you and your former spouse.

If you and your ex-partner are handling the divorce amicably, setting up an arraignment where both can share custody may work well. Many parents will agree to the let the pet follow the children. When the kids are at one parent’s house, so is the dog or cat. However, one detail to be preemptively agreed upon is who will be responsible for daily expenses and bigger veterinary bills.

On the other hand, if you and your ex-spouse have a hard time working together, it is better to decide that the pet goes to one person’s home. It is also better to resolve this issue sooner rather than later, either together or through the court.

A Pittsburgh Divorce Lawyer Can Help

If you are wholly unsatisfied with Pennsylvania’s stance on pets, you are not alone. Many people disagree with treating pets like property, despite this being the law in a majority of states. An experienced and empathetic Pittsburgh divorce attorney from Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC can help you manage the situation between you and your former spouse. However, if you are unable to come to an agreement, attorney Anthony Piccirilli can tenaciously argue for you to keep your pet.

To schedule a consultation, call (412) 471-5100 or contact us online.