Fighting Over Fluffy and Fido

No, You can’t file for joint custody of the family cat or dog!

They sign your Christmas Card and travel along on family vacations.  Pets are an integral part of the modern family.  However, under Virginia law, pets are treated as property.  You cannot file for joint custody of your family dog.  Although you may consider your pet to be a part of the family, the law does not see it that way.

The LawRosie

Who gets the family pet is based upon the court’s weighing of the factors listed in equitable distribution statute, Virginia Code Section 20-107.3.  In this respect, the family dog is treated no differently than a bank account or bedroom suit.  The judge will look at such evidence as who purchased the pet and who has paid for the food, shots etc. for the pet.

Determining who gets the family pet can be particularly difficult for divorcing empty nesters or couples without children.  The Court of Appeals of Virginia in a recent case, Whitmore v. Whitmore, upheld the trial judge’s award of the family dog to the wife.  The Whitmore’s had no children and purchased the dog together.  In granting the dog to the wife, the trial judge looked at who had contributed to the acquisition and maintenance of the dog and who had played a significant role in the life of the dog up to that point.  The court also ruled that sharing such an asset would be “ill-advised”.  Consistent with principles of property division, the court awarded the Husband $750 for the cost of the dog, so that the Husband could purchase a dog of similar characteristics.

What Can You Do

If you and your ex want to share “custody” of your pet, your best course of action is a property settlement agreement.  In the agreement, you establish a specific plan for sharing time with your pet(s).  Additionally, the separation agreement can be used to resolve any other outstanding issues relating to your separation and divorce.  If the issue of who gets the pet(s) is left to the court, it is unlikely the court will order a time a sharing arrangement.

Further Reading

See Ben Steverman’s Article “In a Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Family Dog?” Bloomberg, April 29, 2016.

We are experienced in handling divorce and custody matters in Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Petersburg, Prince George, or Sussex. Give us a call at (804) 668-5327 or email us at Contact@paulperduelaw.com to schedule a consultation.

**This material is for Information Purposes ONLY and should not be construed as legal advice and does NOT create a legal relationship with Paul Perdue Attorneys PLLC.