Pet Custody – PA Laws May Change
Every Family Law lawyer has a story about the fight over the family dog (for some reason, it always seems to be dogs. Cats get no respect). We hate pet custody cases. And family lawyers that love animals hate them even more.
Here’s the reason: the animal that you love, that’s part of your family, is nothing more than a toaster or china hutch in the eyes of the court. And likely worth even less. You can’t ask for custody of a pet. You can’t ask the court to consider the best interests or welfare of the pet when it makes its decision. After all, no one asks whether the toaster will be happier with one spouse as opposed to the other.
In the end, as with toasters, the court’s decision usually boils down to “possession is nine tenths of the law”. In other words, if you’ve got the pet when you split, you’re almost certainly going to keep the pet. Lawyers understand this as a situation where there is always an adequate legal remedy meaning, can you be made “whole” if you don’t get the toaster as part of the divorce. Target is full of toasters, and pet stores and shelters are full of animals. So you can always get a replacement. And that what we mean by ‘adequate legal remedy”.
It shouldn’t take much arguing to make the point that this is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Alaska has already added a pet provision to its family law statute and now Pennsylvania is poised to do the same. A bill introducing specific factors (an abbreviated set of pet “custody” factors) was introduced in the 2017-2018 House of Representatives Session (House Bill No, 1652) and is now parked in the House Judiciary Committee. Assuming it makes it out of committee, it will likely become law as it enjoys bi-partisan support.
Allen I. Tullar, Chair of the Divorce and Family Law Group, regularly counsels individuals in divorce, custody and child support matters. He has also guided families through adoption, guardianship, and LGBT matters.