These days our pets can be treated very much like our children - in other words, spoiled rotten! Doggy day care, dog spas, kitty condos and dog cookies are some of the many items marketed to pet owners to help them take care of their pets. In the case of divorce, parties sometimes argue over custody and visitation of their pets. No question, we love and treat our animals like children. But does the law treat them similarly?
One way you can make sure that your dog or cat is considered in your divorce is through a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). A PSA is a legal document which finalizes all aspects of your divorce including assets, debts, support and custody. It is a binding contract which means that if you agree to it, you're bound by it and the court will enforce it. Keep in mind that any provisions regarding "custody" of your pets will be void and unenforceable; you can, however, state something similar to, Husband is keeping Fido and Wife is keeping Garfield.
In PA, dogs are not considered in the same way as children and therefore we cannot petition for "custody" of animals. Dogs are placed in the category of property, i.e. like a car or a piece of furniture. That seems way too cold, in my opinion. Courts in other states have decided that animals are a hybrid: more important than a piece of property but not on the same level as a child. One way we can try to discuss pets is as a more valuable piece of property, for instance something that is irreplaceable and very special, unique. Given that there are nearly as many cats and dogs in the U.S. as there are people, it is clear that this issue is not going anywhere and we can hope that the caselaw will continue to develop and provide further guidance to clients and attorneys.