Most of us realize that owning a pet is not the same thing as having a child. Still, many of us in Hermitage and Jamestown love our dogs, cats and other animals dearly. Losing the close relationship with our pets because we are getting divorced would be devastating for many of us, whether we are parents or not.
Unfortunately, pet custody has never been something that exists in Pennslyvania divorce law. When parents divorce, they must agree on a child custody arrangement and have the judge sign off on it, or have the judge decide if the parents cannot agree. But pets have been traditionally treated as “chattel” or personal property. Just as a divorcing couple must decide who gets to keep the furniture and record collection, they must figure out who gets the pets as part of property division.
But this could soon change. The state House recently passed a bill that would create a form of pet custody in Pennsylvania.
What pet custody could look like
The bill would give family court judges guidelines for situations in which a divorcing couple cannot agree what to do about their pets. It would classify pets as “animal companions.” When the parties cannot work out the problem for themselves, the bill would require the judge to consider factors like the animal’s daily needs, which spouse has provided most of the social interaction and health care, and which one is in the best financial position to keep the animal. In theory, the judge could rule that the parties must share the animal. This would move disputes over pets somewhat closer to child custody rather than division of an asset.
It remains to be seen if this bill will become law. If it does, it could cause disputes between pet-owning spouses to be resolved with more compassion for the feelings of everyone involved, along with the pets.
Pets are one part of the divorce process
Your pets matter, but so do your children and yourself. You need a divorce settlement that is in your kids’ best interests and provides you with a stable financial footing. Before starting the process, finding an experienced divorce attorney who is a good fit for you can be invaluable.