By Alexandra E. Cabonor, Esquire
They say the dog is man's best friend, and any pet owner will tell you that their animal of choice has been there for them through thick and thin. Because animals take a great deal of dedication and commitment, many couples decide to adopt a cat or a dog as a bit of a test drive before they decide to have a child. Although taking care of a pet can often be a bonding experience for a newly minted couple, all too often the pet becomes a casualty when human dog or cat parents go their separate ways. Even though mom and dad might love their fur baby like a child, in most states, courts do not have the mechanism to treat little Fluffy and Rex like children and thus, the parties cannot seek a custody or support order. However, often states have different ways of addressing the issue.
Recently, in California, 90s pop star, Mandy Moore, who split from her music producer husband, Ryan Adams earlier this year, sued Adams for spousal support based in part on the fact that Adams left her to care for the six cats and two dogs the parties adopted together. Her complaint went as far as to argue that she was missing out on work opportunities in order to take care of the animals, and her costs were increased by the fact that Adams did not take some of the animals with him when he left, something he had promised to do.
In Pennsylvania, no matter how child-like your pets are, when you break up, the court will usually decline to make any rulings regarding their custody or support. Although a court will sometimes treat a pure-bread animal like an asset and engage in equitable distribution, most courts will decline to rule on any request that Daddy pay for Riley's like the mastiff's special medicine or determine what is in the best interest of Ruth the kitten. Some attorneys will agree to bring motions into court requesting that ex's share custody of their pets, most courts in Pennsylvania are not in the business of deciding who deserves "pet custody." When in doubt, the court may look to which party signed the adoption papers and in whose name the vet and licensing records are in.
If you and your significant other are thinking of adopting a pet your best bet (as it usually is) is to put your plans in writing. If you want to make sure that Tucker gets to see Mommy and Daddy in the event of a break up, put it in writing. If you want to divide up the costs of caring for Jack and Molly, keep a record. This will make it easier for you in the long run, and even though a court isn't going to decide that you have to give your ex boyfriend partial custody of the guinea pigs, they can enforce a contract that you entered into.
For more on pet custody, contact our Pittsburgh office today!