Families in Virginia who have dogs, cats or other pets know the strong emotional bonds that they may develop with these animals. Today, more people consider their pets to be integral members of the family, not just ancillary belongings or trappings of the traditional family setup. This trend contributes to a difficult challenge when a couple gets divorced and must decide where the pets will ultimately live. 

Rover.com notes that dogs, like children, flourish when given a stable, loving home that include a relatively dependable routine and structure. Even a cat comes to learn a home’s and family’s behaviors and does better in a stable environment versus in a shelter. The upset people feel when getting divorced may be noted by animals who can sense their humans’ feelings. 

In 2014, a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that pet custody issues in divorces had increased by 22%. To date, at least three states, California, Alaska and Illinois, have passed legislation outlining how pet ownership should be addressed during a marital divorce, according to Pew Trusts. No longer in these states will judges consider a dog or a cat to be akin to a piece of furniture. Other states may well follow suit. 

When deciding which spouse a pet may live with, a variety of factors may be considered. These include who spends the most time with the pet, who has historically assumed the primary responsibility for the pet’s care, and even any preference the pet may display for one spouse over the other. Some couples may choose to share custody of a pet.