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Court: Property division rules pertain to dogs during divorce

Pennsylvania couples with pets often struggle to determine doggy custody after a divorce. It is important to remember that animals are considered property, so they are subject to property division rules instead of those that govern child custody. A recent ruling out of Vermont demonstrates the type of legal action that may be taken in a doggy custody case.

Although animals are ultimately considered marital property, many judges will consider other factors that are not included in the law. That is, the owner with the closest emotional connection or most financial resources could conceivably end up with the animal. In this situation, a Vermont veterinarian whose dog accompanies him to work every day will not be required to share his dog with his ex. The court ruled that the routine of visiting the veterinary clinic was in the best interests of the animal.

This ruling came out of the Vermont Supreme Court, so it is not a small matter. The pair had pursued numerous appeals to get to that point; many other dog owners are similarly serious about their puppy custody. Justices at the state's Supreme Court determined that although dogs are considered a special type of marital property, it is not possible to legally hand down a custody decision. Vermont law dictates that only one party can have ownership of the animal.

Divorcing couples in Pennsylvania may not even think about the fact that their animals must be divvied up during even simple property division. If you can resolve your pet issues outside of court, you may ultimately be better off. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse cannot agree, a court will probably have to award custody to just one puppy parent.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "After divorce, court won't allow joint dog custody" Lisa Rathke, Associated Press, Apr. 25, 2014

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