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What happens to our pets on the breakdown of our relationship?

Posted on 02nd March 2020 in Family Law

Posted by

Caroline Ryan

Head of Private Family
What happens to our pets on the breakdown of our relationship?

What happens to our pets on the breakdown of our relationship?

The breakdown of a relationship can be an emotional time. There can be a lot of uncertainty and a lot of practical issues to resolve. For many people pets are an integral part of family and relationships. However if there is a dispute regarding ownership or where a pet might live, the law defines a pet as a chattel. Therefore a very black and white approach is adopted to such a dispute and a Court will look at who paid for the pet, who the pet is registered to and who pays the insurance.

Often in a divorce situation pets are considered as part of an overall financial settlement. A Judge may be persuaded to consider what is in the pet’s best interest but this is not enshrined in law. Where children are involved it may be possible to argue that it is in the children’s best interest that the pets remain with them and the Court does have a primary concern in any case to consider what is in the children’s best interest.

What can you do?

1. Negotiate direct – this is usually only possible where there remains an amicable relationship.

2. Instruct a solicitor to set out proposals which may take into account the pet’s welfare and best interests.

3. Mediation.

4. Court proceedings.

Whilst Blue Cross research in 2014 suggested that one in four divorces involves a dispute about pets there are very few reported cases. However this is often something that does come up when dealing with the breakdown of a relationship.

I have recently had experience where a divorcing couple had three dogs. The Husband was a high earner working long hours in the city. The Wife did not work has it had been agreed that she needed to be at home to look after the pets. When dealing with the finances on their divorce the Wife argued that she needed suitable accommodation for the pets and also set out a maintenance claim which included the costs of looking after such pets. It was very upsetting case for the Husband because the Wife restricted his contact of his much beloved pets during the course of proceedings.

In other cases parties have put pets at the centre and in one case I dealt with recently the parties maintained an amicable relationship and have a shared care arrangement for the pets which include the Wife looking after the pets when Husband is away with work.

Solicitors are more commonly being ask to draft pre-nuptial agreements and these can include provisions relating to pets. However we have also seen the introduction of “pet-nups”. A pet-nup puts a pet’s welfare at its heart and enables parties to avoid dispute. Parties are encouraged to think about their pets. Agreements can include provision for care of pets, ownership, making specific provision for meeting costs, vet bills, microchipping, holidays and welfare concerns.

Anyone can enter into a pet-nup. If this is of interest to you then you should legal advice to ensure that any agreement entered into is as legal binding as possible and what factors should be considered in your case.

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