A Pet Custody Trial?


I am active in the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Family Law Section and one of my positions is as co-chair of the Section’s Legislative Committee. In that capacity, I monitor pending legislation pertinent to family law and advise the Section. After that, the Section decides whether to take a position on any proposed legislation. 

An intriguing bill I recently reviewed is HB 1108. It was introduced on March 9, 2023, by Representative Anita Astorino Kulik of Allegheny County. For lack of a better description, it addresses “pet custody.” 

Several months back I wrote a blog post on the status of pets in divorce proceedings; they are treated as personal property just like a table or a lamp. You cannot sue or file a petition for custody of a pet. HB 1108 seeks to change that. Under the bill “companion animals," read pets, can be subject to an enforceable written custody agreement, and if there is a disagreement as to possession or custody of the pet, either party in a divorce can petition the court to determine who shall receive “possession or care, or both” of a companion animal. In so deciding pet custody, the trial court would consider:

  1. Whether the companion animal was acquired before or during the marriage;
  2. The basic daily needs of the companion animal;
  3. The party who generally facilitates veterinary care for the companion animal;
  4. The party who generally provides the companion animal with social interaction;
  5. The party who generally ensures compliance with state and local regulations regarding the companion animal;
  6. The party who provides the greater ability to financially support the companion animal.

The bill does say that it is a rebuttal presumption that a service animal remains in the custody of the individual for whom the animal is providing services.        

For pet lovers, I am sure that this legislation is long overdue. For family lawyers, judges, and court administrators, I am equally sure that this legislation is a potential nightmare. While I am not familiar with the situation in every county in the Commonwealth, in the ones where I practice it takes months to get a hearing or trial on the custody of human children, let alone furry ones. I can’t see pet custody trials as being a welcome addition to the family court docket.

HB 1108 passed the Pennsylvania House on June 26, 2023, by a vote of 125 to 78. It has moved on to the State Senate and according to the information I have received, it is not listed for any action at this time. Feel strongly either way? Contact your state senator.

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