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Pennsylvania Considering Change to Law on Pets in Divorce


Stories of divorce are usually full of anecdotes about spouses fighting over property, child custody, or alimony, but rarely are the stories about how to deal with the family’s pet. Pets are an integral part of the American family at this point, but divorce can upend how the family pet fits within the new family structure. Dividing responsibility of a pet is not an easy endeavor in many situations, and this can become a big point of contention if some resolution cannot be found. Unfortunately, current Pennsylvania law does not facilitate a quick or easy resolution because pets are currently viewed as property, which significantly limits the court’s ability to decide the issue in a fair manner. Thus, parties with disputes about pets are usually advised to do everything possible to settle the matter privately, so that the outcome is best for all involved. One legislator is seeking to remedy this problem by introducing legislation that would give judges authority to look more deeply into the animal’s welfare and what would be best for the family. The analysis would be akin to that used to regulate child custody and would therefore focus on more subjective factors than the formula used to assess property division matters.

Assessing Responsibility for the Pet

Similar to the process used to evaluate child custody matters, the proposed legislation would have courts look at a number of factors when deciding how to divide responsibility for a pet between spouses. These factors include:

  • Whether the animal was acquired before or during the marriage;
  • The basic needs of the pet;
  • Which party handles the veterinary care;
  • Which party provides the most social interaction for the animal;
  • Which party ensures compliance with State and local regulations; and
  • Which party can better financially support the animal.

The first factor looks to whether the animal would be part of the marital estate, which could lead to some interesting arguments about how an animal could assume this status if acquired before the marriage. The factors in the middle look to examining the welfare of the animal, and the last factor goes to which spouse can better afford to care for the animal. Overall, the goal of the legislation is to give a court some authority and guidance on how to approach pet custody issues that are more reflective of the role of animal’s in the family under today’s standards.

Enforcing Pet Agreements

The other piece of this legislation is authorizing courts to enforce pet agreements between spouses. Currently, courts have no ability to enforce agreements related to the shared custody of pets, so former spouses are left to negotiate disagreements through mediation or another alternate dispute resolution forum, which may not work. Under the new legislation, courts would have the power to enforce agreements that address financial responsibility for the animal and physical possession. This provision would greatly increase the ability of courts to effectively deal with this issue.

Get Legal Advice

If you have questions about settling responsibility for your pet, talk to a divorce attorney today. Pet disputes can become very heated, and you need the help of an experienced attorney to reach a good resolution. The Media divorce attorneys at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates have all the experience you need to reach an outcome that is good for your pet and your family. Contact us to learn how the law applies to your situation.




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