Americans have embraced their precious pets as tight as toddlers do their favorite stuffed animal. These fur babies have become integral to many people’s lives, with dogs traveling everywhere with their owners, having their own beds, blankets, and coats, and being fawned over and treated as much as newborns. According to the National Pet Owners Survey from 2017, 60% of US households own dogs and 47% of Americans own cats. Shockingly, the number of cats outnumber the number of dogs, with 94 millions cats owned as pets and almost 90 million dogs. It’s safe to say that dogs’ loyalty, companionship, and exuberance have won our hearts, and it’s hard to imagine life without you dog or cat.

However, what happens to dogs in the event of a divorce and you and your spouse separate? Who gets the dog?

Tate Bywater is a family law firm in Prince William County that offers representation for those going through a divorce. Our caring and compassionate divorce lawyers will help you every step of the way during this very emotional time in your life. When you partner with us, our goal is to handle all of the legal aspects of your life, so you can focus on your healing. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the very important issue of how to divide pet care when a divorce occurs. Contact top-notch child custody lawyers today!


While you may view your dog or cat as a vital member of the family who provides comfort and enrichment throughout your life, the law views your pets as property. If you acquired your pet during your marriage, then your dog or cat is considered part of your mutual marital property and thus must be divided up like every other household article during the divorce.


Since the court views pets as property, the same process must be followed for dividing up your dog or cat as with other property. This usually means negotiation. Hopefully, if you want the dog or cat, your spouse will consent and not try to use the dog or cat against you. Tate Bywater recommends that you decide early on how much you are willing to exchange for your pet if you have an uncooperative spouse. Divorces can get nasty as two people let anger take over instead of reasoning out divorce proceedings. Hence, it’s best to be prepared ahead of time for what you are willing to fight for and what you are not. You want to try your best to come to some kind of agreement; if you don’t, then it will be left up to the judge to decide whose decision will be one you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life.


A judge in under no legal obligation to consider anything with regard to your dog or cat. However, more judges (who probably own pets themselves) are taking into consideration key facts when determining who gets the pets.

  • If the pet was yours before you were married, you will most likely get the pet since it’s not a part of marital property.
  • The judge may consider who is the primary caretaker of the dog. Such things as who regularly feeds the dog, walks the dog, and takes it to the vet would be included here.
  • The judge may consider your living conditions post-divorce. For example, if you are keeping the house and you have a nice fenced yard and your spouse is moving to a small apartment, that may be considered.
  • The judge may look at if there is any history of abuse or neglect of the dog.
  • The kids matter here. If one spouse is getting primary custody of the children, it would make sense that the dog or cat goes with the kids.


Tate Bywater, a top law firm in Virginia, recognizes your pets as sentient living beings who should not be divided up in the same manner as your big screen TV or your cars. Losing a valued pet to your soon to be ex-spouse could be extremely devastating on top of your divorce and could even be a cause for depression. If no decision can be made, a divorce mediator may be needed to decide as well. However, a third-party mediator will make a final decision as well that you will then have to abide by. Be aware that if a pet is assigned to you, you may have to pay your spouse something in return.

Divorce is unpleasant in many ways, including dividing up your treasured and cherished pets. However, with top-notch divorce lawyers such as Tate Bywater on your side, you can rest assured that we will work tirelessly on your behalf to procure the most favorable outcome for you. If you have children, we will work diligently in your child custody matters as well.

Divorce is hard; lessen your burden with Tate Bywater’s divorce attorneys today. We can help with uncontested divorces, contested divorces, child and spousal support, as well as determining child custody and fur baby custody. We now have offices in Vienna, Fairfax, and Saint Leonard to serve you. Call us today for your free divorce attorney consultation!