When a Pennsylvania couple divorces, frequent areas of dispute include custody of the children and property division. Another, although less well-known, area of conflict is pet custody. Cats, dogs and other domestic animals can become unwitting pawns in the breakup of a marriage.
Pets are generally considered to be personal property under the law, just like a dining room set or a painting. Because they have little financial value, they are typically not a primary concern of judges or lawyers. Unfortunately, in an adversarial divorce proceeding, a couple may be unable to resolve issues regarding who gets to keep the pet or pets.
Some judges have become more sensitive to these matters and have made decisions regarding animal custody. Given that these court rulings are relatively recent, their impact on divorce law is not yet known. What is clear is that as our culture develops a different understanding of human-animal relationships, these issues will be given more consideration in the legal system.
As is the case when dealing with child custody and visitation, a divorcing couple may want to truly consider the best interest of the pet. It may be that one party is better able to provide the consistent care that the pet requires. In addition, it may also be possible for the parties to agree on a visitation schedule so that the pet can remain in contact with both of its caregivers.
A pet owner who is facing the end of a marriage may want to have legal assistance prior to going to court. Legal counsel will explain the law views pet ownership and custody and in some cases can assist in negotiating a visitation agreement that also sets forth the financial rights and responsibilities of each party for such things as veterinary bills.