Divorce and the Dog: Does It Make Sense to Fight Over Fido?

When couples split, often the most emotionally charged issue for our Pennsylvania divorce clients is child custody. Surprisingly, a close second, is pet custody. Wait – is there even such a thing as “pet-custody?” Well, yes and no. Although question of who gets the family’s beloved pet can be nearly as difficult to resolve as the matter of child custody, it technically isn’t a “custody” matter. It may seem harsh, but in the eyes of the law, pets are no different from dishes or lawn furniture!

When it comes to family pets, our PA family lawyers encourage clients to come to an agreeable arrangement outside of the court system. Although Judges can technically make determinations regarding animals just like they would make a determination regarding the marital toaster, most Judges have very little patience when it comes to deciding where Fido is going to rest his head at night. Courts generally encourage couples to avoid costly divorce litigation by working it out amongst themselves.

So is Fido an asset or a child? For some couples, especially those without children, the emotional connection to Fido is much greater than the emotional connection to their dishwasher, so the decision regarding who gets to keep the pet is more of an emotional experience than a calculated decision. On the other hand, families with valuable animals like show-horses or rare dog breeds might want to include the value of the animal in the division of the marital estate. Either way you look at it – neither category seems to fit quite right. But whether you’re hoping to set up a shared custody arrangement or happy to have Fido live with your ex, “pet custody” is probably best kept out of the courtroom.

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