Friends Fur-Ever. Who Gets The Pets in a Divorce?

November 8, 2023 | By Adam Tanker

Much to the despair of animal lovers all throughout Pennsylvania, during the divorce and equitable distribution process, pets that were acquired during the marriage are considered personal property and are treated no differently than televisions or cars. 

This rule was tested in 2002 when a husband and wife included a shared custody schedule for a dog (“Barney”) into their Divorce Agreement. When wife stopped letting husband see Barney, husband sought relief in Divorce Court to enforce Barney’s custody agreement. The case was dismissed at the trial level before a hearing after the judge determined that husband was seeking an arrangement analogous, in law, to a visitation schedule for a table or a lamp.

Husband appealed to the Superior Court, which determined that agreements are void to the extent that they attempt to award custodial visitation shared custody of personal property. Under Pennsylvania law, pets are personal property and husband had to learn how to live without Barney as the custody schedule was unenforceable.

Under Pennsylvania law, pets are personal property.

One workaround for couples who want to avoid fighting over pets in the event of divorce is to enter into “Pre-pups” or prenuptial agreements that address how pets will be divided in the event of divorce.  As long as these types of agreements are made in accordance with current statutory and legal requirements, they will be enforced.

It is also worth noting that if the pet is a service animal that is intended to assist a disabled party, that disabled party will most likely receive custody of the animal in the divorce.

Proposed Legislation

But there is hope on the horizon for change to the status of pets. On March 9, 2023, State Representative Anita Kulik proposed legislation (HB1108) that would allow judges to consider certain factors to assist in deciding who should get the pet, effectively reclassifying pets as something different than a rug or a table, in the eyes of the law.  The proposed bill would specifically make “pet custody agreements” enforceable by the courts. On June 14, 2023, the PA House Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill to the full chamber for a vote, which is still pending.

In the meantime, with the future of pets in divorce unknown, if you find yourself involved in a divorce involving animals, you should consider consulting with an Obermayer attorney to fully understand your rights.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Adam Tanker


Doylestown Family Law Litigation Attorney Adam is a highly regarded and seasoned family law litigation attorney serving the greater Doylestown, PA area.  His practice includes prenuptial agreements, custody, domestic abuse and protection...

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