Two rings, one with a large diamond and one plain, placed on a dictionary page open to the word

For so many people, family pets are more family than pet. Fido seems more like a rambunctious son than a dog, and Fluffy a snarky older sister than a cat. But when going through a divorce, many people are surprised to find that the court sees pets as property, not a four-legged family member.

As with any piece of property, pets are subject to property division during a divorce. Before a judge approves of one spouse or the other getting ownership over the pet, its value must be appraised and estimated, just like what is required of a car, business, or any other prized asset. When the pet’s value is determined, Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution rules will kick in, and the spouse who deserves that “piece of property” the most will be awarded it.

Rulings are Open to Discussion

While it might seem unfair or heartless to just label a beloved family pet as a piece of property as divorce, you should know that family law judges in Pennsylvania have shown some flexibility in the past when it comes to such rulings. After all, equitable distribution boils down to who should get a piece of property based on fairness, and often based on their connection to it. If you want to keep ownership of your dog, you can prepare an argument to present the court, even if you didn’t pay for it.

Essentially, you should approach pet ownership like child custody to some degree. Show the court that your pet prefers your company, or that you are more likely to provide it a loving, comfortable home after the divorce. With a convincing argument in place, you might be able to obtain pet ownership rights, even if you have already collected the majority of the marital assets.

Visitation & Custody are Farfetched

Don’t be mistaken into thinking that the court sees your pet as a child, even if it is lenient with ownership rulings. Historically, Pennsylvania family law judges have shut down any mention of setting up a visitation schedule or custody agreement for pets. There have been some rare rulings that set up what could be called “child support” to help pay for multiple pets with specific needs, but it was really just an addition to preexisting spousal support. The point is that pets are property first, family members second, no matter how you feel about them.

If you are going through a divorce in Pennsylvania and need professional representation to help you keep your pet, Ilkhanoff & Silverstein can help. We have managed all sorts of complicated and high-asset divorce cases in the past and always do what we can to uphold your best interests and keep your family happy, including your critters. Call our York family law attorneys today at(717) 744-0531.