Divorce can be a heartbreaking process, and many difficult decisions must be made. One issue that tugs at the heartstrings of animal lovers is who will keep the family pet after the divorce is complete. Sadly, pet custody as a mirror of child custody does not currently exist in Virginia.
Pets as property
It may sadden you to hear that, for divorce purposes, pets are considered property, not unlike the television, sofa and automobiles. Your pet will be subject to Virginia property division laws in your divorce.
Virginia is considered an “equitable distribution” state for property division purposes. This means that the judge will prioritize fairness when dividing assets, even if it means one spouse receives a greater share of the marital estate than the other.
If the pet was owned by you prior to marrying, it may be considered separate property and you may retain ownership of it following your divorce. If you and your ex got your pet while married, it may be considered marital property, subject to equitable distribution.
Making a pet custody schedule
The idea of treating your family pet like an object may be distressing, but you still have options. You and your ex can settle on a “pet custody” contract out-of-court. This contract should be in writing and should be very detailed.
Some provisions you may want to include are a schedule for the pet of who will have the pet in their care at what times, who can make important decisions regarding the pet’s health and whether you and your ex are permitted to travel with your pet.
A pet custody agreement can better mirror the love both you and your ex have for your pet than current commonwealth law provides. Virginia pet owners going through a divorce can learn more about their property rights and the possibility of creating a pet custody schedule by discussing their situation with their attorney.