Are your pets your only kids? Can you win them in your divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2024 | Divorce

In the midst of a heartbreaking divorce, the last thing you want is another battleground. However, for many couples (especially those without children), their beloved pets become unexpected sources of conflict. These furry, feathered or scaled family members hold immense emotional weight, and their fate can feel like the ultimate tug-of-war.

Before the court gets involved and claws (metaphorical or otherwise) come out, learn what you can do about your pets when getting a divorce.

Can you get a pet custody order?

Unfortunately, no. As in most states, Virginia considers pets as personal property in a divorce — not dependents with legal rights like children. That means the court cannot award custody or visitation rights as they do with kids of divorce.

How are pets handled?

Since they are property, a family law judge has the authority to decide which of you gets ownership of the pets. Typically, courts make property decisions based on asset value and spousal contributions, such as helping a spouse achieve business success. But it works a little differently with living property like pets.

With animals, courts may look less at dollar value and more at specific issues, such as who has the strongest emotional bond with the pets and who was the primary caretaker during the marriage. Of course, they will also want to choose the person who can best provide for the future needs of the pets.

Can you avoid court involvement?

Possibly. Try sitting down with your spouse for a conversation about your animal(s) where you can both express your concerns and preferences. Often, this can yield a mutually agreeable solution. If you cannot work it out and the court becomes involved, having experienced legal guidance can help you present a strong case for ownership.