During your divorce, you and your spouse will likely have difficulty deciding who will get custody of your four-legged children. Many couples and families have dogs, cats and other pets that each member develops a bond with. If you and your spouse share one, two or several pets, you may both want to keep them. By understanding Virginia’s property division laws, you can work to reach the best ownership outcome for your furry friends.

Virginia treats pets as property

While several states have pet custody laws, Virginia does not. Rather, the court will treat your pets as property, which may seem shocking given your emotional attachment to them.

If either you or your spouse acquired any of your pets before your marriage, the court may consider them separate property. In this case, whichever of you was their original owner will likely receive them in your divorce. The exception to this rule is if whichever of you did not own the pets contributed to their upkeep. For instance, you might have brought a dog into your marriage, yet your spouse paid for all its medical bills. Due to your spouse’s investment in the dog, the court may consider it marital property.

Any pets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage will count as marital property. To determine who will receive them, the court will weigh a variety of factors, which could include:

  • You and your spouse’s monetary and non-monetary contributions to your pets’ care
  • You and your spouse’s individual abilities to continue caring for your pets
  • Your pets’ relationship with any children you and your spouse share
  • Whether you or your spouse have a history of animal abuse, cruelty or neglect
  • Whether your pets prefer the company of you or your spouse

Working out your own arrangement

You may dislike the idea of treating your pets as property and having the court determine their ownership. If you and your spouse are able and willing to work together, you may be able to reach your own agreement through mediation. Taking this approach may allow you to devise an arrangement that better suits your needs – as well as your pets’ needs.

If you have a close bond with the animals in your household, you will want to make sure you can protect these relationships during your divorce. A family law attorney can help you determine how you can do so in your situation.