Pet Custody: Who Keeps The Pet After A Breakup?

The topic of pets and divorce is a very emotive one, with many separating couples understandably very concerned about what will happen to their beloved cat or dog when they go their separate ways.

In this article, we will discuss the law surrounding pets and divorce and what this could mean for you and your furry companion.

Pets and divorce: What does the law say?

Under the laws in England and Wales, a pet is defined as property. Many people argue that pets should be afforded a higher status in the context of family law but at the moment, this is the law as it stands.

What does this mean for pets and divorce? As pets are classed as property, the person who gets to keep the dog or cat may be the one who legally owns it. Quite simply, this is the person who paid for it.

If there is an ownership dispute, considerations such as who has maintained the pet financially, by buying food or paying for insurance or vet’s bills for instance, could determine who should be viewed as having ownership of the pet.

Who gets custody of the pet?

The issue of who keeps the dog has become even more pressing in recent years, as many families chose to welcome pets into their home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ant MacPartlin (of Ant and Dec) and his former wife reportedly agreed to shared custody of their Labrador, Hurley following their separation.

However, it is important to note that, as described above, the courts will deal with pets as property. So in reality, there are no pet custody battles, despite what the press headlines may lead you to believe.

This means that sadly, no matter how much you view your pet as a small family member, the welfare needs of your animal are very unlikely to be taken into consideration by the courts. Equally, there is no pet ‘child arrangements order’ equivalent, so the court cannot order any kind of shared custody agreement or otherwise.

As a result, if a divorcing couple is unable to reach an agreement about who will keep the pet between themselves, the court will likely deal with it together with the financial settlement.

In the worst-case scenario, if both parties are unable to agree, a court may even order that the pet is sold and the money divided between the parties.

Is there a way to make sure I can keep my pet if we divorce in the future?

So-called ‘pet nups’ (i.e. a pre-nuptial agreement specifically for pets) are becoming more common. Animal charity Blue Cross has even made a downloadable ‘pet nup template available on their website.

Pet nups can detail everything from who the pet should live with should its ‘parents’ divorce, to who should meet expenses such as food and housing.

A pet nup could provide peace of mind that if you divorce in the future, the intended arrangements for your pet in that event are thoroughly detailed.

Pets and divorce: how can a solicitor help?

If you and your partner are unable to reach an agreement about who should keep the pet after divorce, a solicitor can help with negotiations.

Even if you intend to go to mediation (which can be extremely helpful for many couples), having legal advice beforehand can be very useful.

Receiving advice from a specialist family lawyer as early on as possible in the divorce process could make a real difference to the outcome of your case. Get in touch today to book your free initial consultation with one of our experienced family solicitors.

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