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How to Determine Who Gets Custody of the Pets when Divorcing

Divorce is the dissolution of the legal contract that is your marriage, but it’s so much more than that. Your divorce will significantly affect your financial and parental rights, which is huge, but there can be additional important matters at stake, such as custody of your beloved family pets. Your marriage is dissolving, but one of the last things you may want to do is leave your pets behind in the aftermath. The fact is that you can address the matter of your pets’ custody with the court, and an experienced Virginia divorce attorney can help.  

In the State of Virginia

Some states have moved forward with legal pet-custody concerns and have laws on the books that address the matter. In the State of Virginia, however, pets are still considered property – in the same way that a car or your furniture is. That property that you and your spouse acquire over the course of your marriage – including those pets that you acquire – is considered marital property, which must be divided equitably (or fairly under the given set of circumstances) in the event of divorce, and this system also applies to your pets. 

The Factors Involved

If you and your divorcing spouse are in agreement regarding your pets, that is naturally your decision to make. If, on the other hand, you’re in disagreement and would both like to keep your pets, the court will make the determination for you by considering factors such as the following:

  • When the pet joined your family – if the pet was yours to begin with, it will likely be considered your separate property.
  • The pet’s primary caretaker – If the bulk of caring for the pet in question – such as feeding, walking, grooming, obtaining healthcare, and more – falls to you, this is very likely to weigh in your favor with the court.
  • The pet’s living environment – The judge is very likely to take the living environment that each of you can offer the pet into careful consideration. For example, if your pet is a large dog and you will be living on an acreage out in the country while your ex-spouse will be living in a high-rise, the judge’s choice may be easy. If your beloved pet, however, is an indoor cat, it is a different matter.
  • Any history of abuse or neglect – If there is any evidence that your spouse neglected or abused the pet in question, this will very likely directly affect the judge’s ultimate decision. 

Our pets play an important role in our lives, including providing invaluable emotional support, which can make seeking custody of your pets in divorce that much more important. 

An Experienced Virginia Divorce Attorney Can Help

If you are concerned about obtaining custody of your beloved pet in divorce, the compassionate Virginia divorce attorneys at Mahoney Richmond Thurston, PLLC, understand how important the issue is to you and are committed to doing all they can to help. For more information, please contact us today.