Pennsylvania lawmakers question how pets are treated in divorce

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2024 | Divorce

There’s legislation making its way through the Pennsylvania legislature that would help judges determine how “custody” of pets would be determined in divorces if a couple can’t work out an agreement on their own. That would make Pennsylvania one of the increasing number of states where pets are treated as more than “property” like furniture or stocks to be split according to property division laws.

When divorcing couples have children, they typically work out an arrangement where the pets move with the kids between homes if possible. For couples without children or whose children are grown, it’s not unusual to see battles over who gets to be a beloved pet’s primary caregiver. Worse are situations where “a pet can be used by one party as leverage against the other when negotiating the division of assets,” as one lawmaker behind the legislation puts it.

What would be considered in determining who gets an animal?

Under the proposed law, when judges have to decide what happens to a pet, they are required to consider things like the following:

  • Whether the pet was acquired before the marriage by one spouse or during the marriage
  • Which spouse has taken the most responsibility for the animal, including their daily care and social interaction and their veterinary care and licensing
  • Which spouse can better support the animal financially

Couples who want to continue to “co-parent” their animal could draw up an “enforceable agreement regarding the possession or care, or both, of a companion animal.” That agreement could spell out “periods of time during which each party will possess the companion animal” and the “financial responsibility of each party regarding the care of the companion animal.”

This change would certainly be a welcome addition to Pennsylvania family law – particularly when one spouse – or both — may not be acting in the best interests of an animal. However, it’s important to keep in mind that any couple can choose to work out, with the input of their legal advisors, their own agreement as part of their divorce to outline how care, time and financial responsibility for their animal(s) will be shared.