While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regards pets as property, the emotional bond shared between divorcing couples and their pets often challenges this legal assessment. Recognizing this, there is now proposed legislation to establish pet custody rules in cases of divorce.

House Bill 1108 would enable a divorcing spouse to request that the court determines who gets a family pet. However, if the associated parties come to an agreement on placement of the pet (including if it is a shared arrangement) and who is responsible for expenses related to the care of the pet, the court would not need to be involved, and the agreement would be legally binding.

If the court determines who gets the pet, the proposed legislation instructs the court to consider all relevant factors when making this decision, including:

  1. Whether the pet was acquired prior to or during the marriage.
  2. The basic daily needs of the pet.
  3. The party who generally facilitates veterinary care for the pet.
  4. The party who generally provides the companion animal with social interaction.
  5. The party who generally ensures compliance with state and local regulations regarding the pet.
  6. The party who has the greater ability to financially support the companion animal.

A companion animal, as defined by the law, is any pet or animal that lives with people and is considered part of the family. It could be a pet purchased at a store, bred or raised; it could be adopted to help someone with a disability or for protection, or simply to be a friend and companion. However, if the pet is a service animal for either person in the divorce, or for a child who stays with that parent, then there's a presumption that the pet would stay with person who needs the service animal.

While the following House Bill remains pending and cannot help those in the midst of a divorce, future spouses can avoid disputes over pets during divorce by entering into a prenuptial agreement which specifically outlines how pets will be handled in the event of divorce. These agreements, if drafted in compliance with the existing caselaw and statutes, will be upheld and enforced accordingly.

If you need advice related to a marital or partnership breakup and are looking for a top custody lawyer in Pennsylvania, we are here for you. Contact Williams Family Law by phone at 215-340-2207 or email us at info@bucksfamilylawyers.com.