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.

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About the author

About Jennifer Lemanowicz

Jennifer attended College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, before being awarded a Merit Scholarship to Widener University School of Law. Following law school, Jennifer worked for a general practice firm where she gained experience in a variety of legal areas, including family law, non-profit law, and estate planning and administration. Jennifer joined LaMonaca Law as an associate in 2015, and concentrates her practice on matters of family law, including all aspects of divorce, support and custody proceedings. Jennifer is a whiz with a spreadsheet and is a member of the firm’s Forensic Support Team, which specializes in cases involving high value assets or complex marital estates. Jennifer is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, as well as the Montgomery County and Delaware County Bar Associations, and she was recently recognized as a “Best Lawyer” by the Delaware County Daily Times. Outside of work, Jennifer enjoys listening to true crime podcasts, going out to eat with friends, and spending time with her family.