There are many considerations when going through a separation or a divorce. Matters of equitable distribution and child custody are typically at the forefront, but where do family pets fall into the mix? In Pennsylvania, pets are considered personal property. This means that when dividing assets, pets are legally viewed in the same light as a family car or home. This presents a unique conflict as most Americans consider their family pet as part of the family, rather than a possession of the family.
Courts in Pennsylvania are unlikely to enforce shared custody or visitation agreements for pets. Judges have been known to analogize an agreement like this to that of setting up a visitation schedule with a couch. Unfortunately, the law does not account for emotional attachment to pets. There are, however, ways to help establish ownership that can help make a better case for keeping your pet. First, showing that you were the purchaser or the person who adopted the pet is a good starting point. Receipts and purchase or adoption contracts are best to prove this. Next, showing you were the individual who was financially responsible for the veterinary and daily expenses of the pet is also a strong way of proving ownership. At this point in time, the law in Pennsylvania does not give weight to the primary caregiver of the pet, and focuses predominately on financial responsibility.
Nationally, the laws surrounding pet custody are in flux. More and more courts are basing their decisions beyond solely monetary factors and are integrating an approach more along the lines of determining child custody. Factors such as best interest of the animal and the role of the primary care giver are more frequently being taken under consideration when Judges are making these types of decisions. Courts in Pennsylvania have not yet shared this viewpoint, however if this national trend persists, there could be hope for future cases involving pet custody.