In a divorce, who gets the pets?

Divorce is a difficult time for both parties. It can involve a lot of emotions, and no matter how amicable the split, change can be scary.

Oftentimes, Virginia couples are finding cropping up in divorce: who gets the dog?

Pets as property

Virginia law views animals as items of property. Whoever came into the marriage with the animal will be leaving with it. This may seem too basic for a pet that feels like a member of the family, but it is the current standard. While some states, such as Alaska, have changed, it is still the nationally-accepted method for determining pet ownership.

If you and your partner purchased a pet together, you can make a case for claiming ownership of the animal. By showing the court that you are the animal’s primary caretaker, you can improve your chances of getting to keep the animal after your divorce.

What counts as proof? Things like:

  • Attestation from neighbors or friends that you are the primary walker of the animal.
  • Your veterinarian’s statement that you bring the animal to most checkups and appointments.
  • Copies of dog or cat licenses with your signature.
  • If your cell phone number is on the animal’s nametag.
  • Receipts for food or grooming services under your name.

These are all ways you can prove to the judge that you have an active and vested interest in the animal.

Exploring alternative solutions

Though the courts will view pets as property to be awarded to one spouse, many divorcing couples desire a different outcome that allows each party to remain a part of the pet’s life. Alternating “custody schedules” for pets are becoming increasingly popular.

With these schedules, the animal stays with you part of the time and your former spouse part of the time. Often if a family has children, the divorcing parents will agree that the pet follows the same schedule as the children, alternating between the parents’ homes.

Overcoming divorce obstacles

Even the most amicable divorce can be a difficult process. Frustration or confusion are perfectly understandable emotions during this time. If you’re anticipating divorce, or have more questions around the process, a knowledgeable family law attorney can help.

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