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Family law: Woman seeks custody of dog

| May 23, 2019 | Family Law |

Couples in Virginia and across the country often decide that their relationship is no longer functional and that it is in the best interests of both parties to seek a new beginning. Regardless of whether the couple is married, if there are children involved, both parents have certain rights to their children to help ensure they are able to maintain their relationship. However, in most states, including Virginia, this same consideration does not extend to pets, sometimes creating conflict in courts of family law.

A case currently being heard in another state is questioning the legal precedent that treats a pet as property. As such, courts are typically unwilling to order a custody plan for pets. The couple in the case were not married, and a 25-year-old woman is asking her state’s highest court to order that she is the rightful owner. She is also hopeful that the case will result in additional guidance for judges in lower courts regarding pet custody.

In the original ruling, the dog was awarded to the woman’s 25-year-old ex-boyfriend because his signature alone was on adoption papers. Though Maine law allows judges to order married couples who are divorcing to split custody of a dog, it does not have a provision for unmarried couples. All 50 states, including Virginia, treat pets as property; only three states — California, Illinois and Alaska — have laws that explain how pets are treated in the event of a divorce.

Matters of family law can be complex. In some cases, a ruling by a lower court may not be the final answer. With the help of an experienced attorney, many people in Virginia choose to have a decision overruled. In some cases, such an action can potentially help others who face similar situations in the future.