One aspect of the emotional hardship that often accompanies divorce concerns family pets. Regardless of how strong the connection between a spouse and a pet, an animal is still considered personal property under Pennsylvania’s “Barney Rule,” established by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in the case of Desanctis v. Pritchard (2002). In that decision, the court said that determinations about care and custody for pets are to be decided by the couple in the same way they divide up other personal property. Any support or custody agreements regarding pets cannot be legally enforced.
To finalize a divorce in Allegheny County, a couple must have a Property Settlement Agreement including a listing of all their pets. Because Pennsylvania is considered an equitable distribution state, the divorcing couple’s assets and property are divided in a way that is considered fair to each spouse. Fairness in these cases is based on a variety of factors, such as the contributions each spouse made into the purchase and upkeep of each piece of property. The courts prefer to leave it up to the couple to decide fair valuation for their dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, and the like. It can be difficult to place a monetary value on a loving and devoted family dog, and there are other complications if there are exotic pets, such as a Burmese Python or an imported tiger, or show animals involved.
Although support and visitation rights are not enforceable, any desire to keep a pet within your post-divorce household should be mutually agreed upon as being fair to both parties. Often, where the family dog will live after a divorce is best determined by who will get full custody of the children, especially when there is a well-established bond between the pet and the children. The court, however, will not enforce a custody arrangement or an agreement for the family dog that, for example, gives weekend or holiday visitation rights to one spouse.
There are many such confusing aspects to Pennsylvania laws regarding the division of assets in a divorce. Contact a skilled and experienced divorce attorney at Feldstein Grinberg Lang & McKee, P.C. to ensure that your pets are protected. Call 412-471-0677 or contact us online to see how we can help.