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.

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Today Show story on pet custody battle

Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is largely based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of the other assets, if any. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. As previously alluded to, an alimony provision within an agreement between the parties may not be modified in the absence of a specific provision allowing such a modification within the agreement.

Generally, the length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage. For example, a party may expect approximately 1 year of alimony for every 3 years married. For marriages of over 25 years, an indefinite term of alimony may be appropriate. If the parties include alimony as a part of their own settlement agreement, they are free to set the amount and length of the alimony as they so agree. Adultery by a party will act as a bar to alimony.

The duration of alimony should be limited to a reasonable period of time for the purpose of allowing the party seeking alimony to meet his or her reasonable needs by obtaining appropriate employment or developing an appropriate employable skill. A party seeking a longer or shorter duration of alimony can petition the court to modify its order based on the factors of Section 501 (c).

The factors to be considered by the court include: (1) The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties; (2) The ages, and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties; (3) The sources of income of both parties including but not limited to medical, retirement, insurance of other benefits; (4) The expectancies and inheritances of the parties; (5) The duration of the marriage; (6) The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party; (7) The extent to which it would be inappropriate for a party, because said party will be custodian of a minor child, to seek employment outside the home; (8) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage; (9) The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment; (10) The relative assets and liabilities of the parties; (11) The property brought to the marriage by either party; (12) The contribution of a spouse as homemaker; (13) The relative needs of the parties; (14) The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage; however, the marital misconduct of either of the parties during separation subsequent to the filing of a divorce complaint shall not be considered by the court in its determinations relative to alimony.

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First Lady Michelle Obama has been promoting a law that would make it easier for military spouses to maintain gainful employment in spite of their often transient lives. The law makes it easier for military servicemembers and their spouses to transfer out-of-state occupational licenses so they can continue working in their profession without significant delay after relocating. Just last week, Illinois became the 23rd state in the country to pass the legislation.

Without such legislation in place, many military spouses are forced to take odd jobs to pay the bills while they deal with the red tape of having an occupational license transferred. Often, it can take several months or more to have the licenses transferred based on the cumbersome paperwork still required in some states.

First Lady Obama took up this initiative to help support military families back in February of 2012. Prior to February, only 11 states had similar legislation on the books. Pennsylvania is one of the states that has yet to pass legislation favorable to military spouses looking to continue their careers despite relocation.

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Pennsylvania’s custody relocation statute, 23 PA C.S. 5337, requires the party seeking relocation to get court approval or the other parent’s permission prior to relocation. A relocation is defined as any move that would “significantly impair the ability of the nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.” 23 Pa C.S. 5322. 25 percent of the 35 million children with separated, divorced or single parents have a parent that lives a significant distance from the other parent, limiting the amount of traditional custody time with the non-custodial parent. In addition to giving notice of the proposed relocation and petitioning the court if the other party won’t consent, the party seeking relocation is to submit a proposed order outlining the custody schedule in the event of a relocation. As with any custody decision, the party seeking relocation must show how the relocation is in the child’s best interests. A party seeking relocation should use the proposed order to demonstrate their genuine intent to ensure the nonrelocating party will still have a strong relationship with the child(ren) as a Judge will usually believe maintaining a strong parent-child relationship is in the child’s best interests. This responsibility to prove that a strong parent-child relationship will continue has become easier with the development of social media and video calling services. In fact, the term “virtual visitation” has been coined to describe the opportunities for parents and children to remain touch through the use of technology.

There are several different programs that make it easy for people who live in different places to stay in touch. Skype has become a popular service which allows people to see each other while talking to one another other the internet. FaceTime is a software program available on many cell phones which also allows simultaneous live video streaming in the context of a phone call. Many use Facebook to keep in touch by sharing photos, sending messages, etc. It is now commonplace to include terms for virtual visitations in custody orders where the parents live in different places. Such an order would lay out how often the virtual visits will occur and how long they will last (i.e. Parties will Skype on Tuesdays at 8pm for 30 minutes). A Judge may even order a party to get the appropriate software or equipment to ensure such virtual visitation can take place if they do not have the necessary components already. Several states have laws on the books expressly governing virtual visitation. While Pennsylvania does not expressly reference virtual visitation in its statutes, Judges in the Commonwealth have been including provisions on virtual visitation in custody orders made in the context of relocation.

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