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Who Gets Fido? | Pets in the Divorce Process  

Divorce can be a challenging process, especially when it comes to splitting up assets. One topic that has been getting more attention recently is the division of family pets in divorce cases. This post will delve into Pennsylvania property division laws, how they apply to divorce cases, and particularly the laws surrounding pets. 

Pennsylvania Property Division Laws 

Pennsylvania operates under equitable distribution laws when it comes to dividing property in a divorce. This means that instead of splitting assets 50/50, the court will divide them based on what is deemed fair and equitable. It's important to note that "equitable" does not necessarily mean "equal." 

Marital property, under Pennsylvania law, includes all property acquired by either party during the marriage. This could include houses, cars, furniture, and, yes, even pets. All these assets are subject to equitable distribution during the divorce proceedings. 

As you may have noticed, we included pets in the list of property that can be subjected to division. Historically, pets were treated as property in divorce cases. Thus, the court can have discretion in deciding who gets the family pet.  

Factors Considered in Determining Pet Ownership 

When determining who gets the family pet, courts may consider factors such as: 

  • Who primarily cared for the pet (feeding, walking, veterinary care) 

  • The pet's attachment to children in the family 

  • The ability of each party to provide for the pet's needs 

Can a Pet Be Considered a Commingled Asset?  

Commingled assets refer to property that was initially separate but has become mixed or "commingled" with marital property. For instance, if one spouse owned a house before marriage, but both spouses paid for its upkeep and mortgage during the marriage, the house could be considered a commingled asset. During a divorce, determining the division of commingled assets can be complicated as they might also be subject to division.  

Let's bring this concept home with an example of a Golden Retriever named Benny. Suppose one spouse, Alex, owned Benny prior to the marriage. However, throughout the marriage, both Alex and their spouse, Jamie, equally contributed to Benny's care, including feeding, grooming, veterinary bills, and more. In this case, Benny could potentially be seen as a commingled asset. 

Jamie may then petition the court to award them ownership of Benny in the final decree. At the very least, they may argue that Benny should not be considered separate property.  

How to Protect Pets During a Divorce  

Pets are often a central part of the family, and protecting their best interests during a divorce is critical. To ensure that pets are not unfairly impacted during a divorce, couples should take either of the two options. The first option is to draft a solid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that includes clear terms on pet ownership and visitation.  

Couples who did not prepare a prenuptial (or postnuptial) agreement can negotiate the relevant terms on the division of assets and property during a divorce proceeding. The crucial step is to agree on a fair arrangement that is in the best interests of the pet and does not cause any undue emotional distress to either party or your pet.  

It is important to note that pet custody agreements are not enforceable by the court. If, as a part of your agreement, you devise a visitation schedule, the court cannot intervene to enforce the arrangement should either party withhold custody or violate the agreement.  

Helping Clients Prepare Property Division Agreements  

Cairns Law Offices can help you draft your property division agreement for your uncontested divorce. Using our online system, you can easily and efficiently navigate the property division process.  

Contact us online or via phone at (888) 863-9115 to learn more about how we can help you.  

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