Divorce and Animals: Who gets the pet?

Divorce and Animals: Who gets the pet?

Pets are part of your family, so what might happen to them in your divorce? Will a judge order shared custody or set a visitation schedule as they might with your human children? This is a very common and real issue that divorcing couples face because according to the 2019-2020 “National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, about 85 million American families (or 67%) own some kind of pet. Birds, cats, dogs, fishes, or ferrets — these little creatures are part of the family and each year, American families across the country grow a little bit bigger each year.”

Most pet owners automatically assume that a court will come up with a schedule for parties to share a dog, cat or other animal between homes after a divorce (since they’re just like your children, right?) – but in reality the courts will view a pet just as they do other “personal property.” In one Virginia case, Whitmore v. Whitmore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, which applied the equitable distribution statute (Code S 20-107.3), awarded the dog to the wife and awarded $750 to the husband to compensate him for the award of the property (dog) to the wife.

When deciding which person they may award a pet to, a judge might consider testimony regarding each person’s role in the pet’s upbringing and care, so a party seeking to be fully awarded a pet in a divorce should ensure that they start by gathering evidence regarding the following things to give to their attorney:

  • Who purchased the pet and when (was it before or after the marriage?);
  • Who took care of the pet day to day;
  • Who walked the dog or cleaned the cat’s litter box;
  • Who potty trained the pet;
  • Who feeds the pet throughout the day;
  • Who named the pet;
  • Who is the pet registered to;
  • If there are children in the marriage, where will they be primarily living? Do they have strong connections to that pet?;
  • Does the pet have a chip? If so, whose name is the chip registered with?; and
  • Who takes the pet to the veterinarian when it is ill or for its annual checkups?

It is imperative that a party wishing to be granted a pet in their divorce also consult with an experienced attorney who can help guide them through the legalities of pets in divorce situations and explore other areas, outside the above, where gathering evidence will be important. If you haven’t already, use this link to conveniently schedule that meeting online or call us at (540) 944-4343 so our attorneys can work with you to put a plan in place now
to ensure the best outcome possible for you and your pets.

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