When divorcing or separating, there are several different types of custodial relationships in Virginia. The wide range of options allows both parents and the courts to determine the best interests of the child. But what do you do when your “child” is a golden retriever named Rex?
The past decade has seen a significant rise in “pet custody” cases: pet owners asking the court to decide ownership and custody of their pets. Several states have also proposed laws to provide judges with guidance on pet visitation, dividing vet bills—even when owners could relocate with their pets.
In Virginia, however, the law has remained unchanged: pets are property. In a divorce case all marital property—property acquired during the marriage—is divided between the parties. If the pet was purchased during the marriage, it must be valued and given to one party or the other as part of the overall division of assets. Legally speaking, in Virginia your pet is no different from the table or the LCD television, and divorcing spouses simply do not get shared custody of the TV, even if it is hi-def.
As shown by the rise in these pet custody cases, however, the traditional view of pets is changing. As pets become a more integral part of the family unit, the number of pet custody cases will only continue to rise. But until Virginia institutes a law change, the courts will not be able to divide custody of, and time with, your pets. The only option available to a judge will be to treat your pet as property.
If both parties want to share custody of their pets, their best course of action is to enter into a property settlement agreement, whereby the parties may lay out a specific plan for sharing time with any pets. If the future of your pets is important to you, it’s going to be important to your spouse. A negotiated agreement will make sure that your furry friends are taken care of.
The divorce attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have extensive experience in negotiating and drafting separation agreements, including ones addressing the specific issues when pets are involved, and represent clients in Fairfax, Manassas, Woodbridge, Prince William County, Stafford, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Alexandria, Arlington, and all of Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.