Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

In 2017, Alaska was the first state to require divorce courts to take the well-being of pets into consideration in the divorce process. Now, a new bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature that would provide guidance to judges hearing divorce cases regarding the proper guardianship of pets. Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik introduced H.B. 1432, which proposes the following six criteria for pet custody:

  • Who bought the pet and whether it was before or during the marriage. Pets are considered property in family court, so this is an important consideration.
  • The basic daily needs of the pet, such as living space and whether the pet can be alone during the day.
  • The financial ability to support and care for the pet
  • Who is responsible for licensing the pet
  • Veterinary care and who is generally responsible for the pet’s health
  • Who is responsible for social interaction for the pet

In addition to providing guidance for family court judges, the bill aims to make agreements regarding pets enforceable. Currently, if one person reneges on a pet custody agreement, a judge will not enforce it.

What is Best for the Pet?

The needs of the pet should be taken into consideration when deciding who gets custody. A pet may suffer stress from the changes that come with divorce and many pets do not adapt well to a change in environment. Work schedules, including travel and predictability, should be compared, as well as the availability of outdoor space, if needed. Additionally, not all housing complexes and arrangements allow pets. It may make sense to have the pet stay with whoever has custody of the children to lessen the stress of the divorce for them.

Pet Custody Power Plays

If a spouse who was previously uninterested in the pet shows a sudden interest in obtaining custody, this could be motivated more by self-interest than the welfare of the animal. Unfortunately, it is well documented by divorce lawyers that some people will seek to use the pet as leverage during the divorce process. A spouse may use the pet to manipulate the other spouse emotionally during this stressful time, to improve the outcome of the division of property in their favor, or purely as a power play to establish dominance. In these situations and especially those where domestic violence has been an issue, it would be wise to work with an experienced divorce lawyer who can demonstrate to the court that your ex-spouse is not interested in caring for the pet, but rather using it as a strategy for personal gain.

Bucks County Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Provide Experienced Guidance in Divorce and Family Law Matters

At Freedman & Lorry, P.C., we understand how stressful the divorce process can be and our experienced Bucks County divorce lawyers provide our clients with compassionate counsel and skilled representation so that you can confidently face the future. For a free consultation, call us today at 888-999-1962 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.