Whether your family pet is a dog, cat, or a more unique animal, you consider them family. Getting a pet is a lifelong commitment, even when you face challenges like moving, changing career paths, adding to the family, or divorcing. Unfortunately, disputes over pet ownership can make the already difficult divorce process even harder on everyone involved. If you and your ex are arguing over who will take ownership of your shared pets when you split, learn about your rights and options.
The right legal support can make your divorce easier and less stressful. Let us support you as you prepare for the next step in life. Call Hardy Pence at 304-345-7250 to set up a consultation now.
Understanding Pet Custody
The topic of pet custody has gained significant traction in recent years, with news agencies sharing stories of ex-spouses trading their pets on alternating weekends or allowing visits. This has led some couples to explore options beyond all-or-nothing agreements, much like they would discuss child custody.
However, this is very different from child custody in several ways. First, it’s usually not legally required. This means that it requires an enormous amount of patience, cooperation, and communication between both parties—and that can be challenging if the marriage ends on bad terms. Additionally, many divorced people “co-parenting” a shared pet often find it difficult to explain the arrangement to new partners. While new partners are likely to understand the need for co-parenting human children, they aren’t always quite as flexible regarding pets.
As a result, some people prefer to go the traditional route and have one spouse completely surrender ownership of the pet to the other.
What the Law Says
Each state has its own laws regarding pet custody. A growing number of states now allow the courts to consider the pet’s best interests when determining custody arrangements—and that may include joint custody, an arrangement that requires the ex-spouses to share ownership and legal responsibility for the pet.
However, West Virginia is not one of those states. In West Virginia, family pets are considered property, much like any other marital asset to be divided. This means that the circumstances of your pet’s adoption or purchase may matter. If one party owned the pet prior to the marriage, they may retain full ownership when they divorce.
If the pet was purchased or adopted during the marriage, it will likely be considered marital property and be subject to division. Obviously, a pet is far more than just property to a divorcing couple, but just means the court wants to ensure that each party gets a fair share of the pet’s financial value.
Factors Influencing This Issue
While West Virginia does not have a law ordering that pets’ needs be taken into account when determining where they go in a divorce, it’s likely that their needs will be considered. No one wants to put an animal into a situation where they are likely to be mistreated or neglected. Furthermore, if one spouse has put more time and money into the pet than the other, the court will weigh those investments in their decision.
Since West Virginia does not have a law regarding pet custody, don’t expect an arrangement that allows you and your ex-partner to share custody of them. Any arrangement made will be informal and revocable at any time.
Fighting for Your Pet
If your pet is one of your main priorities in your divorce, it is important to talk to an attorney about your next steps. We can help you gather relevant documentation proving that you deserve full pet ownership and can best care for them. We will also lead the way in negotiations, striving to come to an agreement that allows you to keep your pet without leaving it up to the court.
Discuss Your Concerns with the Team at Hardy Pence
We know divorce can be overwhelming and confusing, but we’re here to help you every step of the way. Set up a consultation with our team of experienced divorce attorneys in Charleston now—just call us at 304-345-7250 to set up a consultation now. Whatever matters to you most in your divorce, we will help you fight for it.