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Who gets the pet in a Pennsylvania divorce?

People expect child custody cases to be complicated and contentious; they may not anticipate a similar experience when divorcing spouses are fighting over a pet. However, increasingly, animal companions are at the center of heated legal battles.

If you have a pet and are getting divorced, then you may want to prepare yourself for the challenges of resolving pet-related issues.

What are pets, anyway?

You may very well feel that your pet is a valued member of your family. However, in the eyes of the law, pets are property in Pennsylvania. The law does not make a distinction between a dog and a couch, for instance.

As such, the courts can make decisions regarding pet ownership after divorce in much the same way they make decisions on personal property. While many judges are sensitive to the emotional connections with pets, owners should not expect the courts to treat animals the same as children.

Resolving pet-related matters yourself

Because of this, owners typically make decisions on their pets themselves outside of court. When deciding who should keep a pet, consider the following factors.

  • Did one person bring the pet into the marriage?
  • Is one person more attached to the animal?
  • Does one party have a better living situation that supports the animal's needs?
  • Should the pet stay with the children, if you have a custody plan in place?
  • Who spends more time with the pet?

In other words, think about what is in your pet's best interests and try to work out an agreement that prioritizes the animal's well-being. 

If you want to try sharing custody, then you might consider creating a custody and visitation plan. However, while these plans can be helpful, they are not the same as a child custody or visitation plan, and the courts will not supervise them or enforce them in the same way.

Navigating these and other complicated legal issues

Whether you are struggling with pet custody or another specific issue during your divorce, talking to your attorney about your legal options can be crucial. Not only can your legal representative explain your options, he or she can help you pursue the fair, satisfactory outcome you deserve.

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