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How Is Pet Custody Decided in a Divorce?

By Sheryl Rentz on May 23, 2017

yellow lab laying in park

We are all aware of how stressful and traumatic a divorce can be and the severe impact it can have on our families. One aspect of divorce often gets overlooked: what happens to our pets? In the event of a marriage’s dissolution, this question has many divorcing couples scrambling for an answer.

Pets Are Property

Anyone who owns pets understands that they can easily become a part of the family. Deciding who gets custody of pets after a divorce can be one of the most important parts of the separation proceedings. But despite how much we care for and invest emotionally in our animals, according to the law, they are still considered property.

For this reason, and based on previous case history in Pennsylvania, the court is unlikely to grant visitation rights or shared custody for a pet. Whoever owns the pet or is granted ownership during the division of property will have full rights to the animal—and the other spouse will have no say in the matter.

Several factors will be taken into consideration when the judge makes a decision regarding ownership. If you owned the dog prior to the marriage, then you will most likely be granted ownership. Otherwise, showing that you were the purchaser of the animal or the primary financial caretaker (handling veterinary visits and daily expenses) during the marriage will best prove ownership. Having receipts to back up these claims is very important.

Pet Custody Agreements on the Rise

Many couples choose to avoid relying on the courts to make these decisions and instead create and sign “pet custody agreements” that indicate what should happen with their pets in the event of a divorce. This agreement defines how you and your ex-spouse will handle pet ownership, care, expenses, and visitation following a divorce. Each pet should be clearly named in the agreement.

Details that need to be laid out in the agreement include who gets primary custody, how visitation rights will be handled, who is responsible for veterinary care and where it will take place, who is the primary decision maker in regards to health care, and what happens if one of you decides to move to another city or state. The more information included in the agreement, the less chance there is for a dispute arising down the road.

Much like children, pets can be adversely affected by the stress and disruptions caused by a divorce. It is important, if you are going through a divorce and there is a dispute over pet ownership, that you have a family law attorney who is knowledgeable about pet custody issues. Montgomery County divorce attorney Sheryl R. Rentz understands that your pets are extremely important to you and she can offer you informed legal counsel when it comes to such issues. To schedule a free consultation, please call the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. at (610) 645-0100 today.

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