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How is pet custody determined in divorce?

Jul 23, 2021 | Divorce

When a married couple parts ways, shared pets can be particularly emotional issues. It is common for individuals to ask how pet custody is determined in West Virginia. As with many divorce-related issues, the answer to this question can vary from state to state. In any case, this can become a tricky matter in court, so most soon-to-be-ex couples are advised to try and resolve matters relating to pet custody outside of the courtroom. 

Is the well-being of the animal considered in determining who gets the pet? 

At present, there are three states where pet custody is considered in a similar way to children. These states are Alaska, Illinois and California. Other states may follow their lead in the future, but for right now, all other states, including West Virginia, treat pets as property in family courts. 

If a pet is considered property, how is the ownership determined? 

Courts may look at a few factors when determining pet ownership, including the division of other property in the divorce and who paid for things like health care and food. In these states, the best interests of the animal are not necessarily part of the equation. This is why pet owners often opt to discuss such issues in mediation, where the care of the animal can be taken into stronger consideration. If the issue does make its way to court, a partner who feels particularly intent on keeping the pets may need to sacrifice some other property to keep things equitable. 

Many couples do opt to discuss the issue of pets between themselves in states where pets are considered as property. It is important that these discussions result in a written agreement that includes specifics such as a weekly schedule, decision-making powers and a clear method for resolving any future disagreements.  Involving West Virginia lawyers on both sides when drafting this agreement can help ensure it is binding and clear, which can prevent the pet from ending up the victim of a property dispute.