Who Gets Fido? Pets in the Divorce Process

Posted on December 23rd, 2019

Divorce can be messy and heartbreaking. Dividing property, sharing custody and settling spousal support is costly and time-consuming. But what happens when pets are involved with the breakup?

For many individuals, our pets are family. Shouldn’t they be treated as such?

Unfortunately, in the state of Pennsylvania, that is not the case.

In the 2002 court ruling of DeSanctis v. Hurley Pritchard, the court found that pets are personal property and cannot be treated as a custody issue. To arrange for custody of a pet would be on similar grounds as seeking custody of furniture. Impossible for the court to enforce. Some states are moving towards pets being considered as children, but it is not a universal switch as of yet.

However, if a couple wants to make arrangements outside of court to share ownership of a pet, that’s fine. But it is not a court-enforceable, legally-bound issue.

What can you do to win your pet?

The best way to win your pet in court is to prove financial responsibility. Keep track of your expenses including adoption fees, veterinary bills, and daily expenses like food, medication.

You may also want to keep hold of documents such as the license and registration, and microchipping documentation.

If you are not primarily financially responsible for the pet, but the pet lives with you, proving your pet’s primary residence can help you keep your four-legged buddy. 

What about emotional support animals?

As more Americans seek emotional support pets for mental health needs, that can be the fine line between you or your ex getting the dog. 

When there is no financial difference in who cared for the pet, the court will try to be fair such as splitting up pets if there is an even amount. However, if one spouse needs the pet more than the other, such as an emotional support animal–the court will often rule in favor of that spouse. 

Legal action may help.

Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can help you keep your furry friend by your side. For those wanting to protect assets that are part of the equitable distribution process, having the guidelines established before “I do” can protect you if a breakup occurs.

Breaking up is hard. But divorce comes with its own legal battles. Let us handle your family law needs.

Let the Scranton Lifetime Lawyers at Kalinoski Law Offices P.C. help you.

Our Scranton family law attorney is available to provide you legal representation and guidance on protecting your family–children and the four-legged friends. To arrange a confidential, free initial consultation with a strong family law advocate, contact us online or call (570) 207-4000.

Category: Family Law

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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