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Philadelphia Family Lawyer > Blog > Divorce > Pet Custody In Pennsylvania Divorces

Pet Custody In Pennsylvania Divorces


When a court determines who gets sole custody of a child, the best interests of the child are the most important factor. However, pets don’t have the same benefit. Instead, they are considered personal property in Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, the State of New York has passed a new law forcing courts to consider the best interests of the pet. While Pennsylvania has yet to pass such a law, it could be the norm as time marches on.

Now, here’s the rub. In terms of property, all assets acquired during the marriage, including pets, are property of the marital estate. In most cases, one spouse will favor the pet over the other or the pet will simply stay with whichever parent gets the house. However, not all marriages break down like that. In cases where there are no children, both parents may want the pet. So, then what happens?

It’s certainly not like a lamp. If two spouses dispute over a lamp, then a decision is made by both parties on how the lamp is to be distributed. In these cases, someone who is very attached to the lamp may be willing to make concessions elsewhere to ensure the lamp ends up with them. However, much like the lamp, a pet parent will want to prove that they are the one who purchased the pet, have a license for the pet in their name, or can provide testimony that they cared for the pet.

What does the New York law do? 

Essentially, it forces the judge to consider the best interests of the pet when making a decision as to who gets custody. Only pets that are kept in the home qualify under the bill. Farm animals and the like would not count as pets. How do you determine the best interests of the pet? Well, with animal experts, of course. When couples are fighting over custody, they routinely employ the expertise of child psychologists to discuss why their situation is better than any other situation. The same would occur in dog or cat custody cases.

Now, the standards in these cases are very likely to be nearly identical to those in child custody cases. If there’s one thing that dogs, cats, and children all share in common, it is that they like what’s familiar to them. Massive changes to their environment or routine can be psychologically harmful. So, the courts will likely err on the side of what is familiar.

Now, what happens if the other dog parent wants access to the dog? Well, that can be arranged through a consent decree. In many cases, when two spouses love their pets, they tend to want what’s best for the pets. Yet pets can get caught in the middle of custody disputes as easily as children can. The New York law prevents pet owners from unilaterally surrendering the pet to the SPCA without the knowledge of the other pet owner.

Talk to a Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney Today 

Philadelphia divorce lawyer Lauren H. Kane represents the interests of divorcing spouses during their divorce. Call today to discuss your future goals in more detail and we can set about making them a reality.



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