Dogs are one of the most common and beloved pets across the United States and the entire world. Many couples decide to purchase a furry friend together while their relationship progresses. Though it may seem that nothing could go wrong, that isn’t always the case. If the couple splits up, where does the dog go?
Though many people view their dog as their child, the courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not. In Pennsylvania, dogs are regarded as personal property, not something that a couple has a right to share equally. Though we sometimes believe our pets to be our “fur babies,” no Pennsylvania statute allows couples to go to the courts to create custody agreements for their dogs when the couple separates. Indeed, the courts have considered dog custody to be beneath the dignity of the court.
In Desanctis v. Pritchard, a husband wanted the court to enforce an agreement that the two parties made regarding a shared custody model for their dog, Barney, that they purchased together. The court, however, held that this claim was meritless because any terms that are set forth in an agreement are void when they attempt to award shared custody or visitation of personal property. The holding of the case is nicknamed Barney’s Rule since the Pennsylvania courts have held that pets should be included in equitable distribution.
Recently, in March 2023, the Superior Court re-visited the issue of determining who is entitled to injunctive relief when one partner is trying to take the dog from another. To determine who is entitled to keep the dog, the owner must establish a prima facie case to show that they clearly own the dog and will most likely prevail. Some factors that the court looked at in Baltrusaitis v. Schilpp include (1) who bought the dog license, (2) took the dog to the veterinarian, (3) named the dog, and (4) purchased most of the necessities for the dog.  We notice how these factors are similar to some of the factors that the court looks to when determining the best interest of the child.
Even though dogs are considered marital personal property under Pennsylvania law, the owner who took better care of the dog will often receive ownership of the dog when the marriage ends. PA 3 P.S. §459-601  Desanctis v. Pritchard, 803 A.2d 230 (2002)  Pa.C.S.A. § 3502  Baltrusaitis v. Schilpp, 296 A.3d 623 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2023)  Id.
Richard K. Konkel
Richard Konkel concentrates his practice in family law, estate planning and administration, and real estate law. He believes that these areas of law naturally compliment each other and finds that he is able to form the most satisfying client relationships by providing these services to his clients and their families. Richard most enjoys acting in a “trusted advisor” role, helping his clients reach milestones and navigate life challenges. He credits much of his success in being able to develop strong bonds and providing emotional support during difficult situations. Richard aims to be objective and focused , allowing him to provide valuable legal counsel in very personal matters.
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