For a lot of people, our pets are our family. We care about them like they were our own children. As a result, a lot of people believe that if they go through divorce proceedings, they will have a chance to argue for sole or shared custody of their pets with their ex. Because after all, isn't that what a judge would do if there was a human child involved?
Unfortunately, just because you see your pet as a member of the family doesn't mean the courts do. In fact, in Pennsylvania, marital property is defined so broadly, your pet could be seen as nothing more than a piece of property during divorce proceedings. What this means is the possibility of a more contentious division of marital assets than you previously imagined.
How is marital property defined?
Under Chapter 35 §3501(a) of Pennsylvania law, marital property is defined as, "all property acquired by either party during the marriage [...]." While some property is excluded from this definition, pets are not among this exclusionary property, meaning your pet is no different than the blender you received as a marriage gift.
What does this mean for pets in divorce?
If a couple goes through traditional divorce proceedings, they can expect that the judge will award the family pet to one or the other spouse, regardless of how attached each owner is to the pet. If this does not seem favorable, spouses can enter into a property settlement agreement prior to property division proceedings, where the couple may outline their own form of a shared custody agreement.
It's important to point out that while drafting a shared custody agreement is considered a more favorable option for pet owners, Pennsylvania courts may not always enforce such agreements, as can be seen in the 2002 Superior Court of Pennsylvania case of Desanctis v. Pritchard. Any pet owner wanting to venture into the realm of a custody agreement for their pet is encouraged to speak with an attorney who can explain the pros and cons of entering into such an agreement.