Three states have laws on the book that judges decide custody of pets in a divorce. Pennsylvania could become the fourth.
House Bill 1432 is pending in the legislature. The bill was introduced by Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik (D-Allegheny), who said at the time of introduction that in her law career she saw “too many divorce proceedings in which a couple could not agree on the best arrangement for a beloved pet. At times, a pet can be used by one party as leverage against the other when negotiating the division of assets.”
Alaska, Illinois and California have laws that cover elements such as visitation plans and support for pets. In other states, they are treated more like a piece of property, similar to a dining set, and don’t reflect the prominent role pets play in families.
If HB1432 eventually passes and becomes law, it would allow judges to consider the following when determining who gets the pets in a divorce:
- The date the pet was acquired, especially relevant if before marriage
- The primary caregiver on a day-to-day basis
- The person who takes the animal to the vet
- The person who makes sure local laws are followed as they pertain to the pet, such as licensing
- Who can provide the best financial support for the animal
For many couples, their pets are their children. Until legislation passes in Pennsylvania to guide judges in creating pet custody arrangements in a divorce, the two spouses and their attorneys will have to work together to try to come up for the best solution for all involved.