What Happens to Our Pets When We Divorce?

I am the proud owner of a cat named Spooky, who I adopted 15 years ago. I consider Spooky a part of my family, a pseudo-child. I would be devastated if I got divorced and my ex took Spooky. Unfortunately, in Virginia, the Courts do not consider pets to be children or have the same rights as children. The Courts to not feel that both parties deserve the right to continue a relationship with the pet. In Virginia, the Courts feel that pets are property, to be divided with the couch and the china. So, what can you do about it?

  1. Separate Property

Virginia law divides property into separate property and marital property. Property that you acquired prior to the marriage is considered your separate property. Additionally, gifts or inheritance during the marriage are considered separate property. So, if you brought the pet into the marriage, you get to keep the pet at the divorce. Likewise, if the pet was given to you as a present, say for Valentine’s Day, the pet is your separate property, which you keep at the divorce.

  1. Marital Property

If you and your spouse went to the shelter and adopted the dog or cat together while married, then the pet is considered marital property. When taking into account the division of marital property, the Court will listen to you as to why you feel you should deserve the property. Ultimately, if you go to Court, the Judge will make a decision and award the pet to one party. If you think you are going to have to have a Judge settle the matter, don’t abandon the pet with the other party. If you leave the residence and the pet and then ask the Court to grant you the pet, the Court may see the situation as the other party, who has been caring for the pet, should keep the pet.

  1. Settlement

If you are concerned that going to Court is too much of a gamble, you can attempt to come to a resolution with your ex prior to the divorce trial. Such a resolution is typically called a Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement wherein the parties agree to all outstanding issues and file an uncontested divorce. In this Agreement, you can divide time with the pet, or one of you can take custody of the pet. You have more control in this Agreement to barter for what you really want. For example, give your spouse something that he really wants in exchange for the pet.

If you’re ready to get a divorce, Contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office with one of our Virginia divorce attorneys. We can walk you through the steps to get the most out of your divorce.