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Maryland Considers Bill about Divorcing Couples and Pet Custody

By Sheryl Rentz on March 16, 2011

According to The Washington Post, a new bill has been proposed in the Maryland General Assembly Senate that will define what happens to pets when their owners divorce. With many households considered to be DINKs (duel income, no kids) these days, it is not surprising pets have become an important part of divorce proceedings.

If passed, the bill will give courts the power to grant a custody agreement for a divorcing couple’s pet. The court will also be permitted to give one party sole ownership of a pet, as well grant one party sole ownership of a pet with the other party given visitation rights on a court-approved schedule. The court will also be able to give both parties ownership of a pet and both parties can share custody on a court-determined schedule. However, the court will not be able to order either party to pay pet-related expenses to the other party.

The hearing for the proposed legislation is scheduled for March 14.

The guiding model regarding pet custody in Pennsylvania is referred to as “the Barney rule,” which stems from a case in 2002 in which a couple agreed to share possession of their dog, Barney, in their divorce settlement. However, when the ex-wife moved away, the ex-husband went to court to enforce the agreement and argued the dog should be treated like a child. He lost. The judge ruled that the dog was property and not a family member, despite an owner’s personal feelings. The judge also said the divorce agreement was similar to setting a visitation schedule for a lamp; therefore, pets are not subject to custody or visitation arrangements. Pennsylvania courts have reaffirmed this decision and rule that pets are personal property and belong to the party that receives that property during divorce.

If you are considering divorce and have questions regarding property division or pet custody, consulting with a reputable Pennsylvania property division lawyer can help you understand the laws surrounding the division of marital assets. Contact the attorneys at The Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz to learn more. Call 610-645-0100 today.

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