family pet

Many people love their pets as if they are their children. When a couple divorces in Pennsylvania, however, pets are personal property in the eyes of the court. A pet owner’s divorce agreement will therefore need to outline the future of those animals just as it would the rest of the property they’ll need to divide.

The Barney Rule: Pets are Personal Property

A 2002 decision by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided that pets are personal property in the State of Pennsylvania. The landmark case, DeSanctis v. Pritchard, involved a couple who divorced in 2000. During their marriage, Linda Hurley Pritchard purchased Barney the dog from the ASPCA.

When couple divorced in 2000, they made an arrangement that specifically dealt with Barney’s future. According to the agreement (which they never merged into the divorce decree), “Barney is [Linda’s] property and she will have full custody.” The agreement allowed her ex-husband, Anthony DeSanctis, to visit Barney. However, Linda moved away later that year and no longer made Barney available for Anthony’s visits.

Anthony filed a complaint against Linda in 2001. He requested the trial court do the following:

  • Mandate “shared custody” of Barney
  • Declare that Linda breached the agreement
  • Reform the agreement to provide for shared custody
  • Award Anthony reasonable attorney’s fees

Linda filed an objection, and the court dismissed Anthony’s complaint. An appeal followed. The Supreme Court ultimately found the following:

“In seeking ‘shared custody’ and a ‘visitation’ arrangement, [Anthony] appears to treat Barney, a dog, as a child. Despite the status owners bestow on their pets, Pennsylvania law considers dogs to be personal property.”

In Pennsylvania, deciding who gets to keep the pets is one of the many difficult choices a divorcing couple will need to make. If you have decided to dissolve your marriage, it’s important to start the process correctly from day one. That means getting the correct information, knowing your legal rights, and having great professional support. We can help. Feel free to contact Petrelli Previtera, LLC to schedule a consultation.