Pennsylvania couples going through a divorce have to make a staggering number of decisions. Aside from child custody, which is the primary issue for couples with minor children, property division comes in a close second. Determining how to divvy up marital assets and household goods can take up a large percentage of divorce negotiations. For some, disputes over who should keep the family pet(s) become something of a hybrid between a custody fight and property division issue. 

Pets are a subject that has far more emotional weight than household items or retirement accounts (and hopefully less emotional weight than shared children.) That also means arguments over pet “custody” can become tools for spouses to manipulate one another. This leads some families to try and litigate the matter. 

When a court is asked to weigh in on pet custody, there is no way to know how the issue will be resolved. Some judges are sympathetic to the issue, and will try to find a resolution that is in the best interests of the animals. Others simply refuse to address the matter, sending the parties home to work out an agreement on their own. A common approach is to use the same rules that apply to property division, giving the party who purchased the animal or paid for veterinary care the upper hand. 

The best way for Pennsylvania couples to determine pet custody is to work the matter out on their own, outside of a court of law. It’s possible to create a “shared custody” arrangement that outlines when each party will have access to the pet(s.) If that approach is taken, be sure to create a clear written agreement that includes visitation times, financial obligations and how decisions concerning pet care will be made. That will allow the matter to be resolved outside of the property division negotiations. 

Source: hometownlife.com, “Pets increasingly becoming divorce battleground“, Susan Peck, March 27, 2018