Treatment of Pets in Divorce: Family or Furniture?

Treatment of Pets in Divorce: Family or Furniture?

When a marriage ends, many people are confronted with the uncomfortable situation of deciding what to do with a family pet.  Even though many pet owners view their pet as a member of the family, animals are generally considered property under the law. As a result, judges can simply regard a pet in a divorce case the same way they would a table or a chair. In Pennsylvania, a judge can choose to consider an animal’s well-being in a divorce case, but it’s up to their discretion. But this could soon change.

Earlier this month, Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik introduced legislation aimed at assisting judges in determining what is best for the pet and the family.  Although the issue does not rise to the level of child custody, H.B. 1432 would give judges six factors to consider when deciding the proper guardianship of a pet, which include:

  1. Whether the pet was acquired prior to or during the marriage;
  2. The pet’s basic daily needs;
  3. Who “generally facilitates” veterinary care;
  4. Who provides “social interaction”;
  5. Who ensures compliance with state and local regulations, including buying dog licenses; and
  6. Which spouse has “the greater ability to financially support the companion animal.”

Alaska was the first state to officially amend its divorce code so that custody of the pet is awarded on the basis of what is best for the pet…and since then many states, including Pennsylvania are considering following suit. The legal framework of this and many other divorce issues are constantly changing so if you or someone you know needs assistance with this aspect of your divorce, please contact LaMonaca Law at (610) 892-3877.

About the author

About Jennifer Lemanowicz