Divorce advice: who gets the family pet?
8 March 2017
There is a popular belief that divorce courts have some authority to deal with a pet. While this is true to an extent, how the court actually deals with a pet on divorce may surprise some.
It is estimated that over 40% of households in the UK have a pet, with dogs and cats coming out as the main animals of choice. There is a popular belief that divorce courts have some authority to deal with a pet. While this is true to an extent, how the court actually deals with a pet on divorce may surprise some.
Alaska has recently brought in a law under which pets are treated much more in the way UK law treats children. The recent amendment provides that the court “must take into consideration the well-being of the animal”. In addition, the Alaskan Judges now have the power to award joint custody for pets.
But, what happens to a beloved family pet on divorce in England?
Pets are treated in the same way as a car or house. If there is a dispute it would be dealt with at the same time as the rest of the marital assets. As with all other marital property, the needs and resources of the separating couple are considered. If a spouse doesn’t have enough income to meet their need, then there is a question whether it affordable for them to keep the family pet. This may not be a significant issue if the pet is a cat or dog but if the payments are considerable, say for a horse, then whether the pet is affordable is more of a concern.
Arrangements for a pet entirely depend on how amicable the separation is. At any point before, during or after the marriage, the parties can enter into an agreement to deal with the sharing of the matrimonial finances, including arrangements for the family pet.
Ultimately, if a couple cannot reach an agreement on what will happen to the family pet then the matter will be decided by the court. However, there would not be any impassioned pleas to a Judge or convincing Fido to come to them. Although the court will consider all circumstances of the case when dealing with it, the Judge will not be particularly amused at having to make such a decision. If there are children, then the likelihood, in a dispute, is that the pet will go with the child.
Pets are very much a part of the family and considering how to deal with them is something that may need to be considered at some point during the divorce process. Ideally, this should not be left until the end.
Divorce can often be a stressful process and separating couples can take comfort in their pets. If a couple do not have children, often their pets seem as important to them as a child would be. Any disagreement could become emotionally charged and therefore more difficult to resolve.
The Family Lawyers at Birketts have a range of experience in dealing with matrimonial finances on divorce or separation, including disputes over family pets. We can advise you on the appropriate steps to take when there is a significant difference between couples’ incomes. We can offer a range of options including family mediation and collaborative law.
For further information or to discuss a family law matter, please contact a member of Birketts’ Family Law Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2017.