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Who Gets Custody of the Pets in a Virginia Divorce?

By all accounts, divorce is a complicated life event. The emotional journey can be difficult to navigate. If there is a beloved family pet that both of you want to keep close involved in your divorce, it can make your divorce even more trying. Our pets provide us with the kind of unconditional love and unspoken support that is difficult to duplicate, and there may never be a time when you need that support more than during a divorce. If you have pet-related divorce concerns, turn to a dedicated Virginia divorce attorney who has considerable experience successfully navigating pet custody issues. 

Your Pet

In the State of Virginia, pets are considered personal property. This means that the court does not address the issue of pet custody (the way many pet owners do). As with any other divorce concern, if you and your divorcing spouse are able to hammer out mutually acceptable terms regarding your family pet, the court is very likely to sign off on them. If not, however, the court will intervene on your behalf and will award the animal to one or the other of you. 

The Court’s Decision-Making Process

If the matter of your pet goes before the court, it will take wide-ranging factors into consideration in making its decisions, including (as applicable):

  • Whom the pet spends more time with
  • To whom the pet is demonstrably more attached 
  • Who regularly takes the pet to the vet and groomer
  • Who feeds, walks, spends time with, and plays with the pet
  • Who owned the pet prior to your marriage

If your spouse ever neglected or abused the pet, the court will also take this information into consideration. 

Facing the Facts

Many states are moving away from the somewhat confusing approach of addressing pets as if they are possessions. While there may be more enlightened approaches out there, the State of Virginia has yet to embrace them. For now, your pet remains an element of your marital property, and the court will not address the issue in terms of both of you sharing time with the animal. 

If you are able to negotiate with your divorcing spouse at all, the matter of your family pet is likely something you’ll want to keep between the two of you. The goal is naturally to strike a balance that serves the best interests of everyone involved, including you, your children, and your soon-to-be-ex. If your ex is using your beloved pet as a weapon against you – to get what he or she wants, for example – it is a different matter, and addressing it in court may be your best option. 

Seek the Professional Legal Guidance of an Experienced Virginia Divorce Attorney

The compassionate Virginia divorce attorneys at Mahoney Richmond Thurston, PLLC, understand exactly how important your pet is to you and are committed to helping you obtain a favorable resolution to your pet-related concerns. We’re here to help, so please don’t wait to contact us today.