If you are going through a divorce, you are apt to have a few things on your mind. For example, you may have some anxiety about future finances or separate living arrangements. If you own a dog, cat or another pet, you may also wonder about how your divorce may affect your furry friend. After all, your companion animal cannot continue to live full-time with both you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.

Even though they have personalities and special needs, pets are property under Pennsylvania law. In the Keystone State, divorcing spouses typically receive an equitable share of marital wealth. If you and your partner acquired the animal during your marriage, your pet is likely a marital asset. Because you cannot split your dog or cat into two equitable pieces, either you or your spouse are likely to receive exclusive ownership of the animal.

Negotiating ownership

Collaborative divorces offer a tremendous opportunity for spouses to discuss divorce matters in a less adversarial way. If you believe that you should have sole ownership of your animal, mediating your divorce may be the right approach. That is, you may be able to give up other assets in exchange for keeping your pet. On the other hand, if you have a greater ability to care for the animal than your spouse does, he or she may be willing to surrender ownership without making you turn over something of similar value.

Thinking outside the box

While Pennsylvania law is clear that companion animals are property, mediation may give you the opportunity to come up with a constructive solution. For example, you and your partner may be able to negotiate a visitation and care schedule. If you go this route, though, you may have trouble enforcing the agreement in court.

You probably consider your furry friend to be part of your family. While you must think about how to handle pet ownership before the end of your marriage, a collaborative divorce may give you greater flexibility to reach an acceptable outcome.