Who Gets the Dog in a Virginia Divorce?

woman signing divorce papers

Dogs aren’t just pets anymore – they’ve become part of the family. Unfortunately, the law still doesn’t see it that way. While animal law continues to evolve, for now pets are still property – no different than a shirt or a table. This begs the question as to who gets the dog in a divorce in Virginia?

In Virginia, child custody disputes hinge on what’s in the best interest of the child. However, it’s not the same for pets. Rather, pets will be treated as any other piece of property for purposes of property distribution. 

Equitable Distribution 

Virginia follows the law of equitable distribution of property, meaning that any marital property will be fairly divided when all factors are considered. Other factors that courts will look at in determining what is “fair” include:

  • Each spouse’s age
  • Each spouse’s ability to earn an income
  • Duration of the marriage
  • Contributions to the family (both economic and non-economic)
  • Tax consequences for each spouse

Separate vs. Marital Property

As with any property, a pet will be considered either separate property or marital property. If the pet belonged to one party prior to the marriage, it is separate property and therefore no subject to distribution; it will remain with the original owner. But if the pet was acquired during the course of the marriage, it will be considered marital property and subject to Virginia’s laws on the division of marital property. Though it’s generally best for the divorcing parties to agree upon who keeps the pet, the court will step in. 

While pets that are marital property will be treated as such, courts will still often consider several other factors, such as:

  • Who is at home more often
  • Who takes daily care of the pet
  • Who takes the pet to the veterinarian or groomer
  • Who the pet prefers to be around
  • When the pet was obtained
  • Who purchased/was gifted the pet
  • (If there are children) Where the children will be residing and if it’s in their interest to live with the pet
  • Which spouse will have the space for the pet
  • Whether either spouse has a history of neglecting or abusing the pet
  • Who the pet prefers to be with

In order to improve their chances of being awarded the pet, a spouse must prove:

  1. They were the primary caretaker of the pet during the marriage; and
  2. They can take care of the pet after the divorce.

Evidence to Increase Your Chances of Custody

If you can’t agree upon who your pet will go with, the court will decide. While there are few things that you can do since the pet is considered property, it can still help to gather certain evidence in pleading your case. This may include:

  • Adoption papers
  • Vet bills (with your name on them)
  • Grooming bills (with your name on them)
  • Receipts for food, toys, etc. 
  • If pet name tag has your information on it
  • Testimony from family, friends, and neighbors supporting your claim that you are the primary caretaker of the pet

It has become more common for divorcing spouses to agree upon shared alternating custody of the pet. 

Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC Can Help Those in VA Who Are Pursuing Divorce

For most divorcing spouses, receiving a pet is not about its monetary value, but rather the love and emotion attaching to the pet. But since pets are still viewed as property it can be difficult knowing how to improve your chances of receiving them. 

At Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC, we have experience with divorce law and issues surrounding custody and property distribution. We will help you to fight for what it is that you desire and deserve. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Divorce