Fuzzy Justice: Proposed PA Pet Custody Law May Unleash Family Court-Appointed Canine Custody Evaluators and Pet Reunification Therapists

HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legislation aimed at helping divorcing couples get help from family court judges to determine custody of their pets.

The PA House Judiciary Committee voted to send House Bill 1108 to the full chamber for votes.

The law if it passes will be a boon to family law attorneys, therapists, and potentially develop a new area of court-related work in the high conflict divorce industry.

The proposed legislation will amend the state’s Domestic Relations Act to allow judges to grant temporary custody of family pets to spouses seeking protection through an urgent ex-parte protective order, if a spouse alleges pet abuse.

If the bill passes, family court judges will have the authority to order the accused pet abuser to immediately move out of the marital home and not remove the pet in question.

The Pet Custody Legislation may be a new variation of the silver bullet.

House Bill 1108, sponsored by Rep. Anita Astorino Kulik, D-Allegheny, also provides non-binding guidance to courts in determining custody of pets in divorce proceedings.

The bill directs judges to consider various factors, including when the pet was obtained, the daily needs of the animal, the spouse responsible for veterinary care and social interaction, and most importantly the spouse better equipped to support the pet financially.

The bill gives judges discretion to determine temporary and permanent custody of pets acquired during the marriage and, in some cases, before the marriage.

Canine Custody Evaluators and Pet Reunification Therapists on the Horizon?

When two people are smart enough to put their fate and fortune in the hands of a judge with almost unlimited power over their lives, a pet in the middle might be a way to invest in defeating the person they once professed to love above all others.

An important new industry is contemplated. It is possible that canine and feline custody evaluators will make forensic reports on which spouse is better suited to primary custody. In some cases, where there is shared custody, pet visitation supervisors and pet reunification therapists may find lucrative employment.

The canine custody evaluator will meet with everyone in the family and of course meet the pets.

Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin, raised concern about the bill’s portrayal of pets as “cherished family members,” arguing that it blurs the line between animals and humans.

Supporters, such as a coterie of AFCC members, say that is the “beauty of the bill,” because it gives family court judges, who use a coterie of experts to advise the court, the ability to appoint experts to evaluate the pet, and consider whose “best interest” must be primary.

From Pigs to Parrots: Divorce Court Will Define ‘Cherished Pets'”

Rep Schemel further questioned whether certain animals, such as a farmer’s pigs, should be classified as cherished pets for divorce proceedings or as agricultural animals.

The bill seems to suggest that pigs would be at the sole discretion of the judge, as would parrots, cockatoos, myna birds, peregrine falcons [for falconers], fennec foxes, and skunks – if they are de-scented. All could qualify as pets and can be used for ex parte motions.

Will forensic pet custody evaluators are on the horizon in PA? 

It remains unclear if smaller animals, such as guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, small birds, the entire range of reptiles, amphibians, and fish, qualify for any independent custody evaluation, or if the court can remove a spouse from the marital house for alleged abuse, for instance, of a goldfish.

Not giving a goldfish enough water is abuse, but may not qualify for a judge to remove a spouse from the marital home. However, the judge has complete authority to do whatever he wishes with the lives of the couple, the children and if the PA law passes, their pets.  That is the wonderful secret of family court – those who enter it hand the complete control of their lives to a judge who is not bound by any of the rules of due process.

AFCC affiliates say which animals qualify as cherished pets is something only family court judges can determine case-by-case, usually with the advice and counsel of family law attorneys and experts they recommend to the court.

Opponents of the proposed law argue that warring couples may falsely allege pet abuse to gain advantages in legal proceedings. AFCC supporters say false allegations of pet abuse can be construed as alienation, especially if there are children involved with the pets.

A guardian ad litem’s role may be to safeguard the best interests of pets.

Will PA’s Pet Custody Law Create a Lucrative Industry for Court-Appointed Experts?

If passed and copied in other states, the law could lead to judges appointing neutral pet guardians tasked with determining the level of bonding between the pet and various family members, and factor this in when recommending to the judge a permanent custody decision.

Though they will be paid by the parents, the neutral pet guardian can substitute their judgment over the desires of the couple, the children or the pet.

While critics raise concerns about the potential for abuse and financial gain by greedy court actors, AFCC members point out that each family court system creates its own standards, definitions, criteria for determinations, and mechanisms to detect and penalize parties based on its own arbitrary standards. They do the same for people, children, and property and are equally prepared to do so with pets.

A new cadre of pet experts may help judges sort out custody matters in PA. 

Family Court operates in a world of its own.

AFCC advocates argue that pets can be a substitute for children in high conflict cases to ensure that divorcing parties get the same thorough court appointed services to the complete satisfaction of the lawyers and experts involved as parties warring over their kids to their mutual destruction. .

The PA legislation will proceed to the full chamber of the House for voting, where further debate and potential amendments may occur. Family law attorneys are optimistic about the bill’s potential.


About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • Keep the ” evaluators ” out. Not to the best financially apt, but pet”s choice & best loving care.

  • California is currently taking custody from the parent that refuses sex change operation on their minor child.

    Sex change is the new parental alienation. Court appointed experts and therapists for decades based on best interest of Johnny who the custody evaluator said wanted to be Jane.

  • And I thought this was satire!
    Unbelievable. Turning more power over to the courts!

    We don’t need more laws. We need the laws we have to be upheld and we need common sense to be relevant.

    Total act of plunder launched under guise of best interest of pet.

  • If people are petty (excuse the pun) and vindictive enough to fight over who gets possession of Fido or Kitty, they deserve the trouble and expense of outside arbitration.

    All of this reminds me of that scene from When Harry Met Sally when Harry’s newly married friends are moving in together “Do yourselves a favor and write your names in all of your books. Because one day…”

    I’ve been (casually) following this Kramer vs. Kramer tale and the hilariously alarming comments from the partisans of Her and Him and I just want to point out something that has been so far unsaid: it’s their own fault, the both of them.

    If they had behaved like reasonable adults none of this would have happened. No litigation, no therapists, no $100k billings.

    People get divorced. It happens a lot. Most manage to do it reasonably amicably, or at least rationally and pragmatically.

    If on the other hand, two wealthy, hateful, crazy nuts decide to go at it hammer and tongs and spend every dime wrecking each other… well.

    And no, it’s not the fault of the arbitrators.

    Judging by the volume and tone of the comments, taking sides in other peoples’ contested divorces seems to be America’s favorite new blood sport.

    So sadly I can kinda see how it could be useful to have pet custody arbitration. Time for another forever home, Kitty. Daddy be crazy!

  • The AFCC will do just about anything to make money. Many abusers try to keep dogs that were brought in to the relationship by the other party. I can see how this is an issue but it’s another profit making situation with the AFCC. Lord help us all.

  • Idk. People do see pets as family members more than ever today. I’ve known more than one couple who break up amicably and shared custody of the dogs. Not the most practical arrangement, but neither could bear the thought of never seeing or spending time with the dog again. They probably thought the dog would also be sad to never see them. So I can kind of see why this bill was suggested.

  • Yeah. Can we please get names and info on the people sponsoring these types of bills? I want to help people decide who not to vote for.

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

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