Pets in Virginia are classified as personal property which is something that a lot of people struggle with because anybody who has had a pet knows that a pet is a family member but in the eyes of the law, it is not. A pet is personal property that is subject to division in a divorce, just like a car or bank account would be.
In divorce cases, pets are considered assets. They are considered property and they get divided with the help of an experienced property division lawyer. However, the reality is that often times pets do have accompanying liabilities in the way of veterinary bills and things like that. While the court does not have the authority to order one party to pay beyond the ongoing expenses, like child support, the court would have the ability to divide responsibility for existing outstanding bills for the pet if there are any at the time of the divorce.
Pets are emotional topics in Virginia divorce cases. Because people develop relationships with their family pets, their family pets become part of the family and it is a difficult deciding how two people are going to divide the time of the pet who they love very much. It becomes even more contentious when the parties are having a hard time resolving the issue, knowing that if they go into court without an agreement that the court is going to get rid of that pet which they consider a family member.
Equitable Distribution in Virginia
Virginia is an equitable distribution state. Unfortunately, the court will not deal with custody when it comes to pets. Child custody is something that the court is required to determine, but pets are not treated that way in the eyes of Virginia law.
In some divorce cases, where parties have entered into an agreement, like a property settlement agreement that sets out custodial arrangements for pets where both spouses are very tied to the pet, unless the parties agree in advance, the court will not be dealing with custody when it comes to pets. Instead, the court will strictly look at the pet as an asset and there are really two possible outcomes.
Either one party gets the pet or the pet is ordered sold and the proceeds are divided, whichever the court deems appropriate between the two parties. If the parties cannot agree who gets the pet, the pet is typically ordered sold. When it comes to pets, considering how connected people can be to them, that is something that attorneys will often advise clients to resolve by agreement because the outcome can be ugly if the case goes to court.
The Value of a Pet
Similar to other divisions in a divorce case, the Virginia court is going to look at what the market value of the animal is. Because the pet is considered an item of property, the court is going to assign a value to the pet. If somebody has gone to a breeder and purchased a purebred German Shepherd, for example, then the court is going to look at what the market value of a German Shepherd of a similar health condition and similar age is being sold for.
Custody will not be split for a pet, and will only be used in terms of the impact on value.
When it comes to pets that are adopted and therefore likely are not purebred, there may not be a value to be placed. In that case, the party might have to go out and hire an expert to assign a value to the animal if possible.
Many parties get upset by the court’s treatment of a pet as an asset. Many people would argue that pets hold more than a dollar value. Unfortunately, what a person will pay for a pet is a lot less than what their intangible value is to the person who considered that pet a part of their family.
If the animal is a companion animal, then the court would have the ability to take that into consideration. In the case where one party has a companion animal, for therapeutic reasons, sight, or some other assistance for a disability, the court is not going to order that particular animal sold.
The court will award that to the person who needs the animal companion. However, in this type of case, there would be a decent market value to that animal. Therefore, the court would have the ability, if they felt it was appropriate, to make a monetary award to the spouse who does not get the companion animal. This is to compensate them for their share of the value of the animal.