Jul 15, 2021
Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet After a Divorce?
Dog & Cat Custody After Divorce
Unfortunately, according to current Pennsylvania law, the family pet is viewed no differently than the family couch or television in the eyes of the court. Pets are considered to be personal property and fall under the equitable distribution section of the divorce code. Your average family pet will not be assigned much monetary value. Further, the court will not enforce an attempt at a custody agreement between parties nor can you ask them to consider the “best interests” or “welfare” of the pet.
Michael Routh, Esquire, Attorney-Mediator at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation discusses.
As with the other items of personal property, the court’s decision usually is determined by possession. Whomever got the pet when the parties separated, usually gets to keep it. In the case, Huber v. Smith J. S63035/17 (Pa. Super. Ct. Nov. 13, 2017), although not involving a married couple but a couple nevertheless, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined ownership of the pet based on who cared for, licensed, and financially supported the dog. Similar court decisions follow the belief, items of personal property are easy to replace. Thus, with pets, there are always plenty to adopt.
Fortunately, a bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (House Bill 1432), recommending judges to consider the following factors in making their decisions on pet ownership in a divorce:
- Whether the animal was acquired prior to or during the marriage;
- The basic daily needs of the animal;
- Who generally facilitates veterinary care and social interaction for the animal;
- Who generally ensures compliance with local and state regulations, such as licensing; and
- Who provides the greater ability to financially support the animal.
In addition, parties would also be able to enter into an enforceable agreement outside of a divorce decree that provides for the possession and/or care for a companion animal.
Moreover, the bill has bipartisan support so it should become a law if it is presented in that matter.
Nevertheless, if the parties are willing to be amicable, they can agree to a custody arrangement for their pets in their marital settlement agreement. Although courts are normally unwilling to enforce custody for pets, there is a possibility, if the agreement was broken, applicable contract law could apply.
Accepting guidance from a firm that specializes in the practice of divorce mediation will ensure a smooth path along the difficult road of divorce. Alpha’s multi-dimensional team can help you with the above issues and provide guidance on where to turn for help. Let our experts help ensure the best possible outcome for you, your former spouse, and your family.