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Are pets considered property or family in divorce?

In many states, divorce courts view pets as property, not as the much-loved member of the family they really are. Typically, the spouse that has possession of the pet will keep it.

This view is beginning to change, with more and more states adopting laws that treat pets as members of the family. In these states, one spouse may be awarded custody, or the divorcing couple may be awarded joint custody.

A bill was passed into law recently in Pennsylvania. Beginning January 1st of this year, a judge will now determine a pet's custody arrangement during a divorce, but only if the divorcing couple cannot decide on their own.

People see their pets like family, but that's not always the case legally

Just like our children, pets quickly become an essential part of our family. Couples without children of their own often dote on their pets as if they were children.

When considering a divorce, your pet can be of particular concern. Fortunately, states are realizing this, and many are changing their laws to reflect the importance of a pet to its owners.

How does a judge determine custody of a pet?

There are a number of factors that a judge will consider to determine which spouse receives custody, or if they will receive joint custody.

  • Did you or your spouse own the pet prior to your marriage? If so, the judge may weigh more heavily in favor of that spouse.
  • Which spouse was awarded primary custody of the children? The judge may weigh more heavily towards giving that spouse custody because of the strong bond that typically forms between children and pets.
  • Who was the primary caregiver for your pet? If one spouse was responsible for most of the duties involved with owning a pet, such as bringing your pet to the vet or groomer, giving your pet medication, etc. that spouse would be more likely to gain custody.
  • Which spouse is more financially stable? If it would be a hardship for a spouse to be financially responsible for your pet, the other spouse would likely retain custody.

Other determining factors of pet custody

As in the case with your children, you always want to look out for the best interest of your pets.

  • If you will be gone for long periods of time with no one home to care for your pet, it might be better off with your spouse.
  • Are you moving into a rental apartment that doesn't allow pets? Again, your pet should remain with your spouse.
  • Is joint custody or visitation an option? Maybe you can agree to a "co-parenting" solution, where you and your spouse each get to spend time with your pet.

Your pets will miss you as much as you will miss them. Coming up with a solution where both you and your spouse can spend time with your pet after you are divorced would be the best solution for all parties involved.

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