We have written before about what happens to pets when Pennsylvanians divorce. For example, even before marriage, a couple can execute a prenuptial agreement with terms controlling what would happen to any pets should divorce occur. Or, at the time of divorce, the spouses may agree on matters related to a family pet in a marital settlement agreement.

Equitable distribution

If the parties cannot agree, the judge in the divorce action will make decisions about pet ownership as part of dividing the parties’ property, since current state law treats an animal as property (just like an inanimate object). In Pennsylvania, the judge must distribute all marital property between the parties equitably, based on fairness.

Proposed pet legislation

House Bill 1432 would amend current divorce law to add provisions about pet custody in divorce cases. Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik, D-Kennedy Township, is the main sponsor. She wrote in a legislative memorandum that her observations during law practice of couples fighting over pets like any other kind of property motivated the bill. She wants the legislation to allow judges to consider the “emotional attachment we have to our pets” as well as the pet’s welfare.

Special consideration

The bill contains legislative findings and intentions about the treatment of companion animals in personal property division, stating that companion animals (either pets or those trained to provide “assistance in relation to a disability, security or companionship”) are “living beings … regarded as cherished family members that offer … companionship, security and assistance.” They are not in the same category as “inanimate” property and deserve “special consideration” in the division of a couple’s property.

The bill would provide for dealing with companion animals in agreements between parties. They could agree to terms of “possession and care” of a companion animal, including time periods of possession of the animal and financial responsibility for its care.

The legislation, if passed, would require judges to consider all relevant factors, including those in a list, in deciding property division involving companion animals:

  • Whether the animal was acquired before or during marriage
  • Its “basic daily needs”
  • Which party facilitates vet care
  • Which party provides socialization
  • Which party arranges legal compliance regarding the animal
  • Which party can better support the animal financially

On May 8, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it remains as of this writing on June 17.