Quite often, the most important property in a marriage does not even hold the most economic value: the family pet. In fact, most people do not even think of dogs, cats, rabbits, and other furry/scaled/feathered household members as “property.” However, pets are marital property (which is subject to equitable division) if purchased or adopted during the marriage. It is understandable that you want custody, or more accurately ownership, of your pet, just as your spouse does.
If you bought your cat or adopted your dog before marriage, there is not much up for debate; in this case, you are the original owner, and you will get to take the pet with you. Your pet is not part of the marital property, so your spouse has no claim to it. However, if the pet was purchased or otherwise acquired during the marriage, it is considered part of the marital property and subject to equitable (fair) distribution, just like other marital property, including the house, bank accounts, pensions, retirement accounts, and cars. While a few states, like California and Illinois, treat pets like children, and custody can be awarded by the court over a pet, Virginia is not one of those states.
Household pets were considered the fifth most valuable possessions in a Swans Digital survey. And considering 70% of American households have at least one pet, according to the Insurance Information Institute, it is no wonder that divorcing couples often become engaged in seemingly unsolvable disputes about who gets the pet. If the couple and their attorneys cannot come to a solution, the court will have to intervene. Often, a court will attempt to assign a financial value to the pet to be included among the other marital property. However, this does not always work. After all, the actual economic value of a pet is relatively small, especially compared to the companionship and love that owners have for their animals.
In cases in which assigning economic value to a pet is not feasible for resolving a dispute, a court may assign ownership based on what most people would consider custodial attributes, such as who takes the dog/pet on more walks, who the pet prefers, who does the majority of pet care, who has more time to devote to the pet, who purchased the pet, who takes the pet to the vet the most often, and whether or not there are children in the marriage, and if so, who will they be living with (often a court will award the pet to the parent with physical custody).
As animal lovers ourselves, we here at the Virginia Family Law Center understand how important it is to you that you reach a favorable outcome regarding the ownership of your pet during a divorce. To ensure that you have the best chance at success, call our Virginia divorce attorneys today at 703-865-5839 to schedule a consultation.
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