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Who retains custody of the family dog in a Virginia divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 6, 2023 | Divorce & Family Law

Divorce involves the breaking of a union, oftentimes one that has existed for a significant amount of time. This means it also involves splitting the belongings of a shared life.

While dogs are much beloved companions rather than possessions, this includes them too. While ideally, the separating couple would decide who gets the dog themselves, there is understandably considerable tension and conflict over this topic, leading to an inability to do so. In such cases, it falls upon the court to make the decision.

Dogs fall into classifications too

In a divorce, the law views canines as property. Like other assets, their ownership depends largely on whether they are separate or marital property. In the former case, one of the parties owned the dog before the marriage and retains ownership upon leaving it. In the latter case, the couple brought the dog into the family after the union, making it shared property and subject to division. If the dog is marital property, then the court may take many factors into consideration when deciding who to place him or her with. Ownership papers and receipts from vets, pet stores or groomers that show if one spouse bore most of the financial responsibility for the dog can act as evidence that said spouse is more suitable as the dog’s custodian.

The children matter to

If the divorcing couple has minor children, the decision on dog ownership may depend partially on who has primary custody of the children. Because removing a faithful and loving pet may further destabilize the children’s situation, and dogs can help with their mental health, a judge may order that the dog remains with the parent who has the children most of the time.

Where the family pooch lives after a divorce is a serious decision. If the owners cannot negotiate, the court steps in.