To many Pennsylvania residents, a pet may seem like a member of their family, but in the event of a divorce, the courts will treat it as another piece of property. Therefore, an individual seeking custody of a pet may have to negotiate for custody or some sort of visitation schedule. In many cases, a visitation or custody arrangement can be negotiated in a manner similar to a child custody arrangement.
Another issue that a judge may determine is what type of property the animal is. If the animal was owned by a spouse prior to the marriage, it cannot be considered community property at the time of a divorce. A popular method in some divorce cases is to argue that the pet was a gift rather than a mutual purchase, which would constitute community property.
When deciding who should get custody of the pet, a judge will determine what type of arrangement is in its best interest, and it will typically go to one spouse, particularly if one is better equipped to care for it or pay its expenses. Rather than leaving the matter up to the court, however, couples going through a divorce can come to an agreement on their own and even work out a joint custody order, in which each party is responsible for its fair share of expenses and other issues related to co-owning the pet, in addition to a visitation schedule with the help of a family law attorney.
Talking to an attorney may make it easier to come to an agreement regarding the custody of a pet. In many divorce cases, emotions may run high, and having a neutral third party may help a spouse weigh options regarding their pet logically. If an agreement cannot be reached with the other spouse, the attorney could advise the individual regarding property laws in the state and how to best proceed in an effort to obtain sole custody of the animal.
Source: Parade, "In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets? ", Michelle Hollow, August 18, 2014