Who Gets the Dog?

Most people in the Reading area consider their pets a member of the family. They keep us company, comfort us in times of need, and may even protect us from danger. It is therefore shocking to many divorcing couples that Pennsylvania has no laws governing pet custody, or telling judges how they should rule in cases where a divorcing couple’s main point of contention is who should be the primary pet parent going forward.

Only three states — Alaska, California, and Illinois — have a law on the books that specifically concerns pet custody and care during and after a divorce. In all other states, including Pennsylvania, pets are treated like personal property, as if they mean no more to the family than the living room sofa.

This is unlikely to change anytime soon despite a push by some to pass a pet custody law here in PA. Family court judges do not want to preside over cases where couples are fighting about pet custody, and they are letting their friends in the legislature know. Policymakers are unlikely to be persuaded that our legal system, which already struggles to deal with the many child custody and child support cases before it, should start treating pets like children.

The resolution to a divorcing couple’s dispute over a beloved pet is therefore going to be found at the negotiating table. At the Law Office of Gary R. Swavely, Jr., we have helped many clients come to a pet custody and care agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.

As we do when any dispute that arises during a divorce, we begin by analyzing our client’s argument and evaluating their ex’s argument. Sometimes all we need to do is facilitate an open and honest discussion about what both parties really want, and what is in the pet’s best interest. Even the most jaded couples do not typically view their pet as a bargaining chip. Most of the time, both pet parents really do want their fur baby to live their best life, even if that means giving them up to their ex.

What happens when an agreement cannot be reached?

When an amicable agreement cannot be reached, we get to work gathering evidence that supports our client’s desire for custody. Some facts to consider are:

  • The pet’s origin. Did the couple adopt or purchase the pet together, or was it brought into the relationship by one of the parties? If there are adoption or purchase records, who was the partner that handled that transaction?
  • Pet care. Which partner took responsibility for the day to day care of the pet’s needs? Did one person or another have primary responsibility for things like taking the pet to the vet or groomer? Who handled any required licensing? Who was responsible for purchasing the pet’s food?
  • Quality of life. One or both pet parents are moving to a new home. Is that new home suitable for the pet? Does one pet parent travel a lot, and if so, how will the pet be taken care of while the owner is away?

We use this information to build a strong argument that can persuade the other party to give up custody of the pet, or allow visitation, whichever is appropriate.

Don’t let Pennsylvania’s lack of a pet custody law delay your divorce. Contact our office today to chat about how to move your divorce forward, and let’s discuss what is in the best interest of your beloved pet.