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Can you get custody of your pet in Virginia?

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2019 | Divorce

For many, pets are important parts of our lives. Many people even think of their pets as family members. However, the love that people have for their pets can quickly become a significant dispute during a divorce. 

Many spouses try to fight for custody of their pet during the divorce proceedings, but this issue is often more complicated than it seems.

Will Virginia courts award pet custody?

A few other states, including Alaska and Illinois, have passed pet custody laws. These laws consider the well-being of the animal when determining who the animal stays with after a divorce. In a way, the laws sound similar to child custody laws. 

However, Virginia does not have a pet custody law. In a divorce, Virginia law views pets as property. So, our furry friends are actually a part of the property division process. 

Thinking of a pet as property may sound horrifying to any pet owner. However, the lack of a pet custody law does not mean that courts do not consider important factors regarding the animal.

Courts can still help determine who keeps the pet

Most of the time, Virginia family courts prefer divorcing spouses to reach an agreement involving their pet on their own. That is not often possible, as disputes involving pets have quickly become one of the most common arguments in divorces across the country nowadays.

If spouses cannot reach an agreement, then courts will consider certain factors to determine which spouse keeps the pet after divorce, including:

  • When the couple obtained the pet, as well as who actually made the purchase 
  • Which spouse cares for the animal the most, such as who brings them to the veterinarian
  • Which spouse will have a proper living space after the divorce–for example, a dog will not usually do well in an apartment v. a house with a yard
  • Whether a spouse has a history of abuse or violence

So, individuals generally have to prove two things to keep their pet after divorce:

  1. They were the primary caretaker of the pet during the marriage.
  2. They will have the capacity to care for the pet after the divorce.

Issues involving pets are always emotional

These disputes are not about money. They are usually always about emotion, which can often make these disputes divisive, bitter and time-consuming.

At Bowen Ten Long & Bal, PC, we help individuals navigate every aspect of their divorce and property division. We can help individuals protect their rights to keep their family pet.