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Pet Custody in a PA Divorce

Posted By Cairns Law Offices || 4-Jan-2016

When people are divorcing, do they really fight over pets? You bet they do. If you pay attention to the headlines, you may have heard the recent story about the singer/actress, Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams, her estranged husband.

Moore recently asked for spousal support to cover the costs of caring for the former couple's eight pets.

While it's a unique approach, it's not one that Pennsylvania courts recognize. In fact, under Pennsylvania law, pets are considered to be personal property – not all that different from the antique lamp you bought on a road trip, or the oil painting you bought at a hip gallery in Philly.

In a 2002 Pennsylvania Superior Court case involving a divorce settlement agreement, custody of the couple's dog, Barney, was given to the wife. That property settlement agreement gave the husband visitation of Barney.

However, the wife moved away so Barney was no longer accessible for visits. Distraught over his ex's move, the husband filed for shared custody of the dog, but things didn't go his way. After a hearing, the judge decided not to enforce the agreement.

The court explained it's reasoning, stating that Pennsylvania law considers dogs to be personal property. The court said that any terms in the property settlement agreement that provided for shared custody or custodial visitation of personal property were void.

In Pennsylvania, this has come to be known as the "Barney rule." Under the law, dogs are considered to be personal property.

The Pennsylvania court said that the husband was seeking an arrangement that was analogous in law, to a visiting schedule for a table or a lamp. Some ask how a court could possibly compare a pet to an inanimate object, but that's how pets are treated in Pennsylvania divorces.

When the court made its decision, it might have angered some spouses and animal advocates, however, this is how most states treat pets in divorce cases across the country.

For animal lovers, their pets are critically important to them; they are members of their family. People are deeply saddened when their pets pass away, they rely on them for companionship and protection, and many people love them as much as their own children.

Have you seen dogs comforting their owners when they have PTSD? Have you seen dogs lying on their master's grave? How can your beloved pet be compared to a lamp or a painting?

After the DeSanctis v. Pritchard case, Pennsylvania adopted the "Barney Rule," which says that agreements on dog custody are not enforceable. In other words, the last party go get the dog is the one who gets to keep the dog.

Contact Cairns Law Offices to speak with a Pennsylvania no-fault divorce lawyer for free!