Can a court order visitation for pets after a divorce?

Pet ownership is extraordinarily popular, not just in Virginia, but nationwide. In fact, for many, it is a way of life. Our pets are loyal, friendly and fun, especially dogs and cats. Many pets sleep with their owners, and their owners sometimes take their pets virtually everywhere they go – sometimes even in strollers. There is no doubt that pet owners love and view their pets as if they were children.

a young woman and her German Shepherd dog are laying outside in the grass, and she is lovingly hugging and kissing him.  VIntage style color.

This makes a divorce extremely difficult for couples who own pets, particularly if the pet was a purchase made together and you both cared for and enjoyed him or her. You are probably wondering who gets the pet. You are probably also wondering if the judge presiding over your divorce case can order visitation with your pet for the parent who does not get custody.

Despite the obvious attachment people have for their pets and a growing trend towards recognizing custody/visitation schedules regarding pets across the country, Virginia law still considers pets to be property. This means that if your furry friend was adopted during your marriage he or she will be considered marital property and subject to property division, like the remainder of you and your spouse’s assets. That’s right, the court will treat Lassie the same way it treats your Apple© television. One of you two will take it in the divorce. There will be no time sharing or shared custody of Lassie!

In determining who will get your pet(s), the court will look to a variety of factors. First, the court must determine when the pet(s) was purchased. If the pet was adopted by you prior to your marriage, then there is a presumption that the pet is your separate property. However, the pet may also be considered hybrid property, if your spouse helped care for and maintain the pet with you after your marriage. This is why the court will also take into consideration the monetary and non-monetary contributions made by both you and your spouse in the acquisition, care and maintenance of your pet. Other factors may include you and your spouse’s age and health conditions (it may be easier for one of you to care for the pet), and in some instances, the reason your marriage failed. Virginia still recognizes fault-based divorces. If your spouse is culpable for certain transgressions that led to the breakdown of your marriage, this wrongful behavior could be considered when determining who gets your pet.

Because both you and your spouse probably want to keep or at least have visitation with your pet, the best way to avoid having the court decide who gets Lassie is to enter into a mutually agreeable property settlement agreement with your spouse. In this agreement, you and your spouse can work out a custody/ visitation schedule of your pet, similar to a child custody / visitation agreement with minor children. This way, both of you can enjoy timesharing with your furry friend(s)!

Figuring out what to do with the family pet(s) is just one of the major issues that will come up in your divorce. If you are considering divorce or currently going through one, the qualified family law attorneys at the DiPietro Family Law Group are here to help you. The family law attorneys at the DiPietro Family Law Group have decades of experience with all family law issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Contact us today for a consultation at (703) 370 – 5555 or visit our website.

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