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Who keeps the Pets in a Separation?

Our pets hold a special place in our hearts and our homes. They become a much loved part of our families. For many, they become akin to a child. Perhaps they are your favourite child! But what happens to our pets if our relationship or marriage ends?

While most separating couples can amicably sort out what happens with their pets, there have been some spectacular and very public spats about this. There’s a whole catalogue of celebrities who have battled it out over who gets Flossie and Fifi.

It is often a surprise to our clients to learn that their beloved pets are treated under the law as no different to their microwave or dining table. The Property (relationships) Act 1976 (the PRA) sets out how a couple’s property is divided when their relationship ends. Under that law, pets are classified as “family chattels” so, despite being a living thing, they are lumped into the same category as our car, garden tools and blender.

Under the PRA, family chattels are divided equally between the separated couple. This presumption of equal sharing generally applies even if one person acquired the item or brought it into the relationship.

There have been a few situations where a separated couple have taken their dispute over pets to the Family Court. In such cases, Judges have considered the wellbeing of the pet and made property orders that read more like a parenting order for a child.

I always advise our clients to reach agreements about their pets and avoid costly and stressful disputes in Court about them. When coming to an agreement, I suggest you consider:

  • Does the pet share a closer relationship with one person?

  • Is one person more available to care for the pet?

  • If you have children, consider having the pets go with them. The pet may have been bought for a child but there is also research from Germany that indicates children with a dog could adjust better to a separation, providing them with a sense of continuity, stability and unconditional love.

  • the financial arrangements for meeting the needs of the pet. We recently completed a relationship property agreement for a separated couple that included how various expenses for their pets were to be met.

If you can’t agree between yourselves, then consider having a mediator assist you. Acting as a mediator, I have been able to help couples reach agreements about pets in a way that is confidential, cost effective and honours the special relationship between the couple and their four legged family members.

Finally, if you are in a relationship or considering entering a new one, consider preventing a stressful and costly dispute about your pets by having a pre-nuptial agreement or Contracting Out Agreement set out what is to happen to them in the event your relationship or marriage ends.

The information in this blog is current at 1 July 2022. The information in this blog is general, educative information only. As such, it should not be relied on in place of getting your own legal advice. If you'd like to have us assist you with your own property questions, then book a free consultation now.

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