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Deciding pet custody in a Virginia divorce

Many families in Virginia have pets that they consider to be an equal family member. As a result, when a marriage ends in a divorce, the question of what will happen to family pets is one of the most important ones. Fortunately, there are some ways to address some of the questions regarding pet care before a romantic relationship ends.

Though the treatment of pets is shifting in many states, most courts still view pets as property. As such, judges are more likely to consider them during property division rather than as part of a custody arrangement that will be in the best interest of a pet. Unfortunately, negotiations over a pet sometimes turn contentious. In some circumstances, one person could ultimately choose to use an animal as a bargaining chip.

Fortunately, there are options to protect the pet prior to a marriage. As reports indicate that more people -- including those who are not extraordinarily wealthy -- are seeking the protections that a prenuptial agreement provide, many people are including details about their pets in such agreements. Often, they include agreements regarding who will provide care in addition to who will pay bills and how important medical decisions will be made. Some couples choose to include provisions stating that whoever is caring for any children of the marriage will also care for the pet, perhaps providing stability for children as they move between houses (though a prenuptial agreement cannot generally include details regarding child custody and support).

Some would argue that the attitude toward pets has changed significantly over the course of the last several decades. In many areas of the country, the law has not changed with the evolution. However, pet owners in Virginia who are considering marriage can create a prenuptial agreement that will address many of the care-related questions regarding pets in the event a divorce occurs.

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