Dogs are treated in the same way as personal items and are considered ‘chattels’ in England and Wales, meaning they will be considered an item of personal property and consequently can form part of the overall financial settlement upon separation and divorce.
When a relationship breaks down, dogs often get caught up in the separation process leading to difficulties arising over who will retain ownership at an already emotional time. The 26th August 2023 is International Dog Day and this article seeks to explore how the Family Court treat pets on divorce and what steps you can take upon purchase of a pet to help avoid disputes later down the line.
A fairly black and white approach is taken by the Family Court when considering who should keep the family dog.
Whilst the individual who provides the dog with day-to-day care may be allowed to keep it, it is often up to the Court's consideration when deciding on who the dog should remain with. The Court decides this on the following factors: who originally paid for the dog, who is registered on the dog's microchip and who pays the insurance.
There is however an exception to this, if clear evidence can be given of the pet being gifted to the other party.
It is always preferable to try and resolve matters outside of Court by mutual agreement to avoid pain and the possibility of costly Court proceedings. However, when direct discussions do not prove helpful there are other steps you can take.
What steps can you take?
1. Try to negotiate – often this will only be possible if the parties remain amicable and willing to find a solution. If it is clear neither party is willing to compromise, then this may not be the right step for you.
2. Instruct a solicitor – your solicitor will set out proposals to see if an agreement can be reached. The proposals may include your pet’s welfare and best interests.
3. Mediation – you can negotiate about future arrangements for your pet in the presence of a neutral third party who can assist both parties in reaching an amicable agreement. It may be worthwhile finding a mediator who deals with pet disputes and has experience of dogs and other animals.
4. Court proceedings – this is the absolute last resort as it can prove costly and time consuming. It is important to note that the Judge will only make a decision on who should keep the pet, not on who should have visiting rights or provide financial support.
What can you do to avoid upset later down the line?
If you have recently purchased a new family pet, or already own a family pet, one way to help avoid a future dispute should your relationship or marriage break down is to put in place a ‘Pet-nup’.
A pet-nup can be a cost effective measure that records agreements in relation to who shall take ownership of the pet upon separation, where the pet will live and who will be responsible for any vets bills. Provision can also be included for the non-resident party to spend time with the pet at agreed times, although shared care arrangements can be difficult for dogs in particular to adapt to.
All of these details can also be inserted within a Cohabitation Agreement (if you do not intend on marrying) or a Pre-Nuptial Agreement (if you intend on marrying) or Post-Nuptial Agreement (if you are married). Whilst these are not technically legally binding, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that any agreement is as robust as possible and therefore more likely to be upheld if there is disagreement.
For further information on pet-nups please click here.
Any dog lover will know that dogs are intuitive animals and highly sensitive to changes in emotion and environment. The earlier an agreement can be put in place addressing what will happen to them upon separation or divorce the better as this will help ensure as little disruption is caused as possible.
How can Tozers help?
If you require any further advice on the divorce process or require assistance to proceed with a divorce, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Divorce and Finances team.