Who Gets the Dog Fur-ever?

May 28, 2024 | Family Law, News

Pennsylvania law, as currently written, does not have any special provisions for pets when their owners get divorced. Even though many individuals consider pets as children, Pennsylvania courts do not. Instead, these courts treat these beloved pets the same as a couple’s couch or a kitchen table or some other inanimate object that disappears with one party while the other sacrifices.

House Bill No. 1108 (“Bill”) is new legislation, introduced on May 5, 2023, that would transform how courts treat pets during a divorce. This Bill defines an estranged couple’s beloved pet as a “companion animal” and categorizes these animals as a special subset of personal property that excludes inanimate personal property, such as a couch or kitchen table.

Upon request of either party during a divorce, a court can determine possession and/or care of a companion animal. Courts would be required to consider the following factors when deciding the custody of a companion animal: (1) whether the animal was acquired prior to or during the marriage; (2) the basic daily needs of the animal; (3) which party generally facilitates veterinary care and social interaction for the animal; (4) which party generally ensures compliance with local and state regulations, such as licensing; and (5) which party provides the greater ability to financially support the animal.

This Bill also provides who has custody of a service animal. The party who is serviced by a companion animal has custody of it; however, this presumption is rebuttable – meaning the other party can present contrary evidence as to why the court should not sustain the presumption.

Lastly, this Bill allows parties to enter into an enforceable agreement outside of a divorce decree that provides for the possession and/or care for a beloved pet. These agreements can specify and allocate the periods of time during which each party will possess the companion animal as well as the financial responsibility of each party regarding the care of the companion animal.

While this Bill has not been enacted into law yet, it passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on June 26, 2023, and has been referred to the Senate.

If you’re going through a divorce, be prepared to encounter disputes involving the custody of your beloved pet. Please contact Attorneys Tom Clark, Alexandria Ebbert, and Kaitlyn Smearcheck for any questions or concerns about your pets, or for updates on this legislation at (717) 234- 4121 or tclark@tuckerlaw.com.

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