Dealing with pets in a divorce

Many Pennsylvania families have pets that they consider members of their family. This can create a difficult situation during a divorce. While people may consider their pets to be like their children, pets are treated like other property in the property division process.

More couples today choose not to have children than couples only a generation or two ago. Because of this, many couples view their pets as their companions or their children. In addition, people today are expected to spend around $41 billion on pets this year, which is $24 billion more than what was spent in 1994. All these factors play a role in the increase in custody disputes over animals in a divorce. In fact, a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that a quarter of respondents had seen an increase in cases involving pet custody.

Despite the issues many couples have regarding their pets, a 1995 court case in Florida may show how some courts view the issue. The case, heard by the 1st District Court of Appeals in Florida, ruled against a woman who was asking the court to enforce a lower court’s ruling that said she had visitation rights to her ex-husband’s dog. The court claimed that, because the dog was personal property, her right to visit the dog never existed.

In many cases, one spouse may be in a better position to keep the animal than the other spouse. For example, if one parent has custody of the children or cared for the pet more during the marriage, that person may be more likely to retain ownership of the animal. However, disputes regarding custody and property division may be difficult depending on the circumstances of the divorce. A lawyer working with a client may be able to help a couple reach an equitable resolution during divorce proceedings.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Who Gets The Pets In A Divorce? What You Need To Consider When Fighting Over Fido“, Maria Moya, January 19, 2014