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Is there 'child' custody for pets in Virginia?

Americans love their pets. Millions of dogs, cats and other animals live with their human companions, and most are loved as part of the family.

However, the law does not see it that way when it comes to divorce. Virginia family law courts consider pets to be personal property, the same as your furniture and clothing. In other words, there is no such thing as child custody-like “pet custody.”

Still, a person who is getting divorced and does not want to lose touch with a beloved pet may have options. As with most other assets, debts and personal property, it may be possible to negotiate a settlement over who gets to keep the dog or cat.

If both you and your spouse are emotionally attached to your pet, you may be able to work out a shared “custody” arrangement. This tends to work better with dogs than cats, which often get stressed out if they are shuttled between homes, a veterinarian said. Even dogs should not be relocated more than once a week.

When the spouses cannot agree and the court must decide who gets the pet, things the judge will consider usually include:

  • Which spouse feeds the pet, grooms it, walks it etc.
  • Who takes the pet to the vet.
  • Who trains the pet and provides it social interaction.
  • Who can provide the pet the most financial support.

Emotionally, figuring out who will keep the pets could be among the most difficult parts of a divorce. But it is something that needs to be figured out, so the divorce can be finalized.

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