So, you’re getting a divorce. You’ve decided who keeps the house and who gets the pleasure of the children, but one contentious decision remains: Who gets the dog?
With dogs and other pets being seen almost as much a part of the family as children now, the matter of who keeps the pets is becoming a particular challenge. It’s far more difficult to assess which party the dog prefers than with children, so what exactly can be done?
Whilst dogs may be considered family to their owners, the court does not see it this way. Dogs are considered property of their owners, much like a car, meaning that the court can transfer ownership of the dog, much like they would with a car. As such, the court will not be interested on who the dog appears to love the most and will look at more objective matters, such as:
- Who the original owner was coming into the marriage (if one party brought the dog into the marriage).
- Which spouse works longer hours and is therefore less able to care for the dog
- Are there multiple pets? If so, it may be that there is a split based on the animals’ preference.
- Who spent the most time caring for the pet?
- Financial matters concerning the pet: who pays the vet fees, who initially paid for the pet (This is the main factor used when considering who gets pets in a divorce case); who pays for the upkeep, etc.
It’s important to realise that because of the nature surrounding pets in UK law, going through the court may end up with an outcome that isn’t suitable for your beloved pet. As such, it may be better to solve this process through mediation as many judges are reluctant to use court time on pet related matters. This way, a mutual consensus can be reached by both parties. In some cases, a co-parenting agreement of the pet can be reached, much like arrangements relating to a child.
What about other animals though? What about horses, cats, monkeys and the whole menagerie of other animals you may keep as pets? For animals such as cats, gerbils, hamsters and rabbits, the same rules as for dogs would apply. The rules for horses however can be very different.
Horses can prove a very contentious issue. Also considered a financial asset, one party in the divorce may request that the horses be sold as they are considered a luxury and may be no longer affordable after a divorce has been finalised. You may need to prove to the court that maintenance of the horses is still affordable after the divorce if there is not already an agreement in place keeping the animals out of the divorce. It may be worth agreeing with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to keep the horses out of the divorce, if this is something that can be agreed before proceedings begin.
Moreover, what if you aren’t married and are just separating with a partner who you co-parent a pet with? In cases like this, its most likely to be split based on who paid for the pet if it goes through the court.
The best way to ensure you keep a beloved pet is to draft a pre-nuptial agreement based on the pet. If you have no intention of being married it may be better to draft a co-habitation agreement.
If you have any pre or post-nuptial pet concerns or other family related issues, Contact GoodyBurrett on 01206 577676 or email us at [email protected]