Job loss, social isolation and the news in general put a lot of strain on people over the last year. As stress levels rose, a significant number of Americans decided to adopt a pet to help their mental health.
For the most part, it looks like that idea worked. Many people with new pets report that the animals improved their daily lives and overall mental well-being. They helped people establish a new routine with daily exercise and gave love and affection during a time full of loneliness.
Unfortunately, the last year didn’t just strain individuals. It also put a lot of stress on previously functional relationships. Couples who may not have even considered divorce before are now headed to court to end their marriage. What will happen to their new pets when they get there?
Virginia still treats companion animals like personal property
While you view your cat or dog as a member of the family with their own emotions and household role, under Virginia state law, as in most states, pets are personal property. A judge isn’t going to spend hours trying to develop a shared custody plan for your French Bulldog, no matter how much you and your spouse both love the animal.
When setting the terms for your divorce, a judge will typically assign ownership of your pet to one spouse. The animal will have a specific financial value rather than an emotional one in the eyes of the courts. If you want a more nuanced solution, like regular visitation or time with the animal, you may have to make those arrangements with your spouse outside of court.
Understanding the Virginia approach to pets as property in a divorce can help you plan to protect the animal you love.