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Who takes custody of the pets in a Pennsylvania divorce?

Pennsylvania divorce court judges recognize that some couples view their pets as part of their family. During a stressful event such as a divorce, you may feel emotionally charged thinking about what could happen to your animals.

Because the Keystone State views pets as physical property, they require division under the state’s equitable distribution laws. You may need to “trade” a pet for another item of personal property (furniture?) worth the same value or purchase the animal from your soon-to-be ex-spouse. An awareness of a few relevant factors may help you prepare your request to keep your pets.

Factors that may determine who keeps a pet 

Property and assets acquired before a marriage, or purchased with a spouse’s separate funds during the marriage, belong to that individual. If you or your spouse received a pet as an inheritance or a gift during the marriage, the animal also classifies as separate property.

Unless two spouses can show a written and signed agreement stating otherwise, separate property does not face division. The court typically views all other pet purchases or adoptions as marital property subject to fair separation/equitable distribution.

You may petition the court to take full ownership of a pet. The court, however, does not award spouses animal custody and visitation rights as it does with children. If your spouse also wishes to take ownership of a pet, this might become a heated dispute.

Ability to provide and care for an animal 

As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, a judge may decide on ownership based on who is the greater income earner. To petition your right to ownership, you may need to show proof that you can afford to care for an animal with your single income. 

Your budget should include the cost of pet food, grooming and veterinary care. A judge does not have the authority to order your ex-spouse to provide financial support for a pet. 

The often-complex issues of marriage dissolution could begin with negotiations concerning property division. To prevent a lengthy battle, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse may consider coming to an agreement before the court appearance where your post-divorce plans finalize. 

Talk to the attorneys at OWM Law about your options and legal rights.

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