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Who Gets the Pet in Divorce?

It is commonplace for a couple to purchase or adopt a pet during their marriage. That is all well and good, but what happens when the parties separate and eventually divorce?

We all like to think of our animals as members of the family, however, divorce law in Virginia does not take the same approach. In Virginia, a pet is not considered to be a member of the family, but rather, it is considered to be a piece of property subject to division between the parties.

In practical terms, the court cannot split a pet in two like it would with a bank account so it must award the pet as a piece of "property" to one of the parties. In awarding the pet to one of the parties, the court considers the multitude of equitable distribution factors found in Virginia Code Ann. ยง 20-107.3(E). Among the many factors, the court will consider the extent to which each party contributed to the maintenance of the pet and the role that the each played in the pet's life.

For example, in Whitmore v. Whitmore, the Virginia Court of Appeals found that the family dog was a piece of marital property subject to division pursuant to Virginia's equitable distribution statute. The court ruled that although both parties played a role in the maintenance and support of the dog, which was purchased during the marriage, that because the dog remained with the wife in the marital residence during the separation of the parties, that the dog would remain her property. The court further explained that it would not fashion a visitation schedule for the dog as it was a piece of property. In exchange, the court gave the husband a monetary award of $750.00, the original purchase price of the dog.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss your legal matter with an attorney, please contact Duff Kronfeld & Marquardt, P.C. for a complementary, 30-minute consultation. (703) 591-7475.

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Duff Kronfeld & Marquardt P.C.
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