Posted by Simon Bassett, Partner
‘But what about Rover?’ Who gets the pets in divorce?
Frequently as family lawyers we are asked to provide legal advice about what should happen to a couple’s pets in divorce. A survey carried out in 2011 questioned 2,000 pet owners and revealed that 20% of separating couples sought advice about their legal rights regarding their pets.
Photo credit: Roman Boed https://www.flickr.com/photos/romanboed/
It is easy for lawyers to be dismissive of the animals when finances or children are at stake, but often dealing with the family pet is just as, and in some cases more, emotive than the other issues for the couple.
Pets in divorce are considered to be personal property and dealt with as possessions within financial proceedings. This can seem extremely harsh to those who consider their pet to be the most important consideration, and it must be extremely frustrating when they are advised that it is not ‘cost effective’ to argue about ownership.
Recently, in other countries such as America, there has been a shift away from looking at the family pet purely as property and consideration is given as to what is in the ‘best interests of the pet’. Utmost consideration for the welfare of a child has long been a central principle of the law relating to children in this country but could the outcomes from other countries pave the way for a similar test for pets in the UK? Time will tell, although there is no indication it would happen anytime soon as the Courts remain quick to highlight the property status of pets.
So how should you decide what happens to your pets in divorce?
The best approach to take would be to reach an agreement between yourselves, because unless the law changes, your family pet will otherwise be included with all the other matrimonial property of the marriage. If this is a difficult issue for you to agree on and you need a little assistance in doing so, then mediation could be used to help have those difficult discussions.
If no agreement can be reached then it is possible to deal with the pet within Court proceedings. If the pet belonged to either party before the marriage, then it is more likely that the Courts will take the view that it will remain with that person. However, if this is not the case, either party can put forward evidence that they effectively own that ‘property.’ This can be done, for example, by demonstrating who paid the vet bills or who bought the pet food.
If you’d like to speak to our Family team about pets in divorce or to arrange a mediation session to help discuss these or any other issues call 0800 923 2074 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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