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Who Gets to Keep The Pets During a Virginia Divorce?

pets and divorce

During a divorce, there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved, and one issue that people do not always consider ahead of time is who gets to keep the pets after the spouses split up. Animals are considered very much a part of many American families, and the love that people have for their pets can quickly become a source of conflict when a couple gets divorced.

Because a lot of people think of their pets as family members, divorcing spouses are often under the impression that the question over who keeps the pets is akin to a child custody proceeding. In most states, however, it does not work that way.  

There are a few states that have pet custody laws that apply to divorces, but Virginia is not one of them. The Commonwealth considers animals to be personal property, so in a divorce proceeding, pets would be part of the equitable property distribution. You may not think that it is right to look at pets as “property”, but in the absence of pet custody laws, this is the only way for courts to deal with this matter.

How Do the Virginia Courts Decide Who Keeps the Pets?

Although Virginia considers pets to be personal property, they are still able to look at various factors that would be relevant to your specific circumstances in order to determine which spouse gets to keep them. The first of these would be whether the pets should be considered marital or separate property.

In general, a pet would be considered separate property if one of the spouses brought it into the marriage. In this scenario, the pet would likely remain with the spouse that originally acquired it. If, on the other hand, the couple acquired the pet during the marriage, then it will probably be considered marital property. If this is the case, then the pet would be part of the division of the marital estate.

If it is determined that the pets are marital property, then several other factors will be looked at to help decide who keeps them. These include:

  • Which spouse originally acquired the pet(s).
  • Which spouse is the primary caretaker of the pet(s).
  • Which spouse usually brings the pet(s) to the veterinarian and/or groomer.
  • Which spouse will have adequate living space for the pet(s) after the divorce.
  • If there are children involved, which parent they are staying with, and whether it would be in the children’s best interests for the pets to stay with them as well.
  • Whether either of the spouses has any history of abuse or neglect with regards to the pets.

What it essentially boils down to is that if you want to be the one who keeps the pets after the divorce, you will need to show that you were the one who mainly took care of them during the marriage, and that you will provide the best place for the pets to live after the marriage is dissolved.

It is important to point out that the question over who gets to keep the pets in a Virginia divorce is best decided between the spouses and without the intervention of the courts. Leaving it in the hands of the courts is risky, and there is no assurance that they will render a decision you will be happy with. It will also cost you more to bring the matter before the court.

If this becomes a sticking point and both you and your spouse absolutely want the pets, then maybe some kind of compromise can be worked out. For example, you could work out an arrangement where each spouse gets to have the pets for a week at a time, two weeks at a time, or whatever works best for you. Or if you just want to have the pets once in a while, you could just take them for a weekend or two a month and let your spouse keep them the rest of the time.

If no agreement can be worked out between you and your spouse, then you might have no choice but to argue the issue in front of the court. If you have to go this route, be sure you retain a skilled and knowledgeable divorce attorney who can present a strong case on your behalf.

Work with a Reputable Virginia Divorce Lawyer

If you are facing a divorce in Virginia, Buck, Toscano & Terezkerz is here to help. To schedule a personalized consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys, message us online or call our office today at (434) 977-7977.

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