Pets are like family members to many couples. During a divorce, one of the most common — and often upsetting — questions is “Who gets the pet?”

Learning the pet custody laws in Alexandria, Virginia, can help you and your spouse come to an agreement that is suitable for both of you during a divorce case, before the courts have to intervene. Here’s a basic overview of the law.

Pets: family members or property?

Although most people view their pets as family, the law in Virginia classifies them as property like any other assets. Therefore, the courts will not hear cases involving pet custody, visitation rights or financial support. Instead, the courts decide on pet custody situations as part of general property distribution during a divorce case.

Deciding pet custody on your own

In Virginia, the courts will grant couples their own divorce terms if both parties can agree to them. Creating a pet custody or visitation arrangement on your own or with help from a lawyer may be your best chance of obtaining an agreement that satisfies you. Working with your spouse could help you decide on a pet custody arrangement without a judge’s intervention.

Equitable distribution in Virginia

Virginia is an equitable distribution state. If you and your spouse cannot decide on the fate of a pet on your own, the courts will decide who gets to keep the pet based on the rules of equitable distribution. Instead of splitting property 50/50, the courts considers multiple factors to distribute marital property fairly. These factors may include the length of the marriage and contributions each spouse made.

You and your spouse may get the opportunity to argue why you should each have custody of a shared pet during a divorce trial. Keep in mind, however, that you will not have any right to the pet if your spouse brought it into the marriage. If you did not get the pet together during the course of your marriage, it does not qualify as marital property and distribution laws do not apply.