Those who go through a divorce have to split virtually everything. Some examples include marital property, time with children and financial obligations. Pets are no exception. Couples that have pets must come up with an agreement on how to address ownership after the divorce is finalized.

Anyone that has a pet knows that these furry creatures are much more than just a piece of property; they are often a part of the family. Although pets often hold an important role in our lives, the law generally does not treat them with much regard. A recent legislative proposal may change that.

What is the new proposal? The proposal under consideration is sponsored by Representative Anita Astorino Kulik of Allegheny County. The former attorney told The Sentinel that she saw parties attempting to use the love of a pet as leverage during divorce proceedings. She has crafted the bill with the intention of providing “clear-cut rules” to guide pet ownership determinations during divorce proceedings.

How does the pet custody bill work? The bill notes that pets, or companion animals, are “generally regarded as cherished family members.” As such, the bill provides guidance for the court to determine both custody and financial obligations regarding pet ownership after the divorce is finalized.

Various factors are provided for consideration, many of which mirror the best interest of the child standard used to guide child custody determinations. Some examples, as currently written, include:

  • Date of adoption. When the pet was acquired is taken into account. This can give one party increased negotiation power in this matter if the pet was acquired prior to the marriage.
  • Care. The court should also take into consideration which party is primarily responsible for the care of the animal. This includes feeding, grooming and meeting the pet’s veterinary needs.
  • Compliance with local regulations. The party that ensures all licensing and other State and local regulations are met is also taken into consideration.

The bill also clarifies the term “companion animal” to include any domesticated, living being that is commonly referred to as a pet and raised for companionship as opposed to business or agricultural purposes.

The bill was recently introduced and the ultimate fate is unknown. However, it does provide an example of one of the many issues that must be addressed during the divorce process. Anyone that is going through this process is wise to seek legal counsel. Your attorney will advocate for your interests, taking everything from pet custody to property division to child support payments into consideration during the negotiation process. This will better ensure that a settlement agreement is crafted to meet your interests.