Determining Pet Custody During a Virginia Divorce
In most cases, the family pet is more than just a pet. It is an important family member who is often very well-loved by both spouses. But, what happens when you are preparing for a divorce and the subject of custody comes up? Where does Virginia law stand on pet custody as part of a divorce settlement?
Pets are Personal Property in Virginia
No one wants to hear their beloved pet referred to as personal property. However, as far as the law is concerned, pets are really no different than the family china or a new couch. Marital property is to be divided in an equitable manner in a divorce. So, how does one determine the dollar value of a cat or dog?
Unfortunately, an animal’s worth is more emotional than financial in most cases. Unless this is a show dog or certain pedigree animal that commands a high price, the financial value of your pet for distribution purposes will be nominal. In cases where the pet is worth a lot of money, someone may need to get proof showing what the animal is worth and what current prices are for one of similar age and health condition.
Some spouses will use the emotional attachment to a pet as a way to leverage their financial bargaining power during a divorce. If one spouse really wants the pet, the other might only agree to give up the pet if the other side agrees to give up something of great value.
There is hope that one day the laws will change on pet custody. Some states are starting to consider pets and their well-being when determining custody. In an ideal situation, the couple can work out joint-custody arrangements so both parties can still have access to their beloved family pet.
In situations where the pet in question is a companion animal, the court could take that information into account. If one spouse has an emotional support animal for sight, therapeutic reasons, or to assist with a disability, then the court won’t order the pet be sold if the parties cannot reach an agreement on custody.
While the court will award the pet to the spouse who has the need, it would actually have a good market value. This means the court could award more money or assets to the other side to make the division equitable and compensate them for a share of the companion animal’s value.
Questions to Ask in Pet Custody
If you are trying to determine who should get the pet, you may want to answer some questions to see who is actually entitled to the “personal property” or animal in this case.
Was the animal present before you married? Who initially owned the pet? Did a relative give you or your spouse the pet as a gift? In these cases, the pet is likely separate property. If you and your spouse bought the animal during your marriage, then its marital property and you’ll need to battle it out.
Retaining a Virginia Divorce Attorney
If you have questions on pet custody or need other assistance related to a divorce, contact the skilled team of Virginia divorce attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.