Many people consider their pets as members of the family and accordingly, when the family breaks up, custody of the pets can become an issue. The Today Show recently covered a story of a man who had already spent $60,000 in a custody battle over his dog previously shared with his ex-girlfriend. While pets may be considered members of the family from the perspective of the owners, the courts in Pennsylvania deal with pets the same way as they deal with other inanimate personal property in the event of a divorce.
First, a count for Equitable Distribution must be raised in the context of a divorce in order to get the court involved in dividing any property. There are generally two options available when it comes to how property will be divided. First, the parties can reach an agreement on how they will divide property and submit this written agreement to the court so that in the event either party does not comply, the disgruntled party can file for contempt and the court can assist in enforcing the agreement. The other option when it comes to property division is to go to a hearing and let the court decide. If you go this route, the court will likely give the pet to one spouse or the other just as it would any other personal property such as furniture or TVs. It is not likely to get involved in creating a schedule to continue to share the pet post-divorce.
The great thing about an agreement is that it can be as specific as the parties want. The courts rarely get involved in the content of agreements that are knowingly and voluntarily entered into and treat them as binding just as they would any other contract. Therefore, an agreement could provide for a custody schedule more similar to one you would normally see with children. For example, the spouses may decide to split custody of the family pet and lay out the terms of when they will exchange custody back and forth (i.e. every two weeks, every month, etc.). Or, the parties may even agree that the schedule for family pet will coincide with the schedule for their minor children if applicable.