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What to do when property division includes the family pet

If you’re like most of our readers then you know that property division is an inevitable part of getting a divorce. But while this is often the biggest part of the process, many people may not know what all is covered when property division takes place and how specific wording in state laws can actually create problems down the road.

Let’s consider for a moment that you and your spouse have a dog together. When it comes time for the divorce, who gains custody of the pet? If you’re like most people then you’ve probably developed a sentimental attachment to your pet and might argue over who should have custody. But is this an issue that you should try to work out with your soon-to-be ex-spouse or should it be handled by the courts? The answer to this question might surprise many of our readers.

In a majority of states across the nation, a pet is considered personal property and is not subject to the same custody laws that couples encounter when dealing with children. Unfortunately, this means that one spouse may feel spurned if they do not get custody of the family pet, especially if they feel that they were the better choice. This can even lead to further litigation and an even more contentious situation down the road.

In an answer to this situation, some judges in other states are starting to allow pet custody agreements in divorces. Like a child custody agreement, spouses share custody and visitation with the pet and may even be required to pay support payments as well. It’s important to point out though that while this may be allowed in some states, this may not be the case here in Virginia. Knowing this, our readers are encouraged to talk to a skilled lawyer if they have any questions about the custody of their pet. This is especially true if leaving the matter up to the courts would result in an unfavorable outcome for one spouse.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?" Nancy Kay, Nov. 10, 2013

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