Dannenbaum Law Firm, PLLC

Pets are part of your family too, so what happens if you divorce?

If you are currently living in Arlington and preparing for divorce, you are definitely not the only one. No two divorce situations are exactly the same, albeit your circumstances may be similar to another. Many people in Virginia face obstacles in divorce when disagreements arise regarding custody of family pets. Whether you're a parent of human children, or childless but consider your fur-baby as near to a son or daughter as can be, custody issues can be problematic if you don't know where to seek support.

Long ago, most people approached determining what should happen to a pet when pet owners divorce as a property division issue. Nowadays, however, most spouses, and even most courts, treat the topic more as a custody matter. You undoubtedly want to achieve as swift and agreeable an outcome as possible, and the last thing you need is to be fighting over your puppy or cat in the months ahead when you're trying to build a new and happy lifestyle.

Your pet's best interests

Just as most good parents want what is best for their children in divorce, most good pet owners want the same for their beloved animals. Of course, a turtle or hermit crab may also be cherished pets but are not likely emotionally affected by a major life change as perhaps a dog or cat. The following list includes ideas to help you keep stress levels (for you and your pet) to a minimum when navigating pet custody proceedings in divorce:

  • When child custody, visitation or support matters come up in divorce, the court has the final say. It's the same in situations where pet custody and care are central focuses. While the court will consider both spouses' opinions and needs, it has the ultimate voice of authority, and all parties involved must adhere to any ruling it hands down.
  • If you have always been the primary caretaker of your pet, and your spouse rarely had anything to do with pet care, it is highly unlikely the court will award custody to your spouse.
  • Issues such as who typically provided food and water, took your pet to the veterinarian and paid for pet supplies are key factors in resolving pet custody disputes.
  • The court is not about to allow someone who never had anything to do with a pet to gain custody if it is possible that person is simply acting out of revenge or spite against a former spouse.
  • Although some spouses enter shared custody agreements surrounding their pets, such arrangements may not be in the best interests of certain pets, such as cats, who tend not to adapt well to frequent changes in their routines.

You may have been the sole owner of your pet before you married. If that's the case, hopefully you signed a prenuptial agreement regarding pet custody in case of divorce. The good news is most animal care disputes are resolvable if you know how to protect your rights and where to turn for aggressive support if the situation leads to litigation.

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