In the first of our Family Law briefings, Tim Whitney, associate in the family and children team, looks at the ownership of pets upon separation and Divorce.

In recent months we have noticed a growing number of enquiries regarding the ownership of family pets upon separation and divorce. A recent survey by The Dogs Trust found that a fifth of separating couples felt deciding who got the dog was as stressful as deciding who the children live with.

What the law says

The law in England and Wales has not evolved to reflect the elevated status that many people grant their pets within the family. In the eyes of the law, the much loved family pet receives the same treatment as the well-worn family sofa. Pets are viewed as personal property or chattels. A Judge is not required to consider the welfare of the pet in the same way they would when making arrangements for children. The reported case law suggests that a Judge will be more interested in who looks after the pet and maintaining the status quo.

How to avoid conflict

This impersonal approach will often motivate separating couples to make arrangements themselves by agreement. This is an area where mediation or collaborative law could greatly assist. These non-court processes provide couples with the necessary tools to agree personalised solutions that accommodate the intricacies of their family life. We have seen many of our clients go on to agree dog walking timetables, make arrangements for cat holiday care, and agree the division of future veterinary costs.

Planning ahead

There have been reports in the media of people spending over £10,000 on legal fees taking pet disputes to Court. It has been well publicised that many celebrities, including; Liam Gallagher, Cheryl Cole and Rory Mcllroy, have faced difficulties when negotiating the care of their pets on separation. In order to avoid this, couples should consider including provision in nuptial agreements or cohabitation agreements. These documents can be entered into at the start of a relationship to provide for the care and arrangements for a pet upon any future separation.

For further information on how our team can help with divorce and separation issues, please visit our service page.

Download Who really is the cat’s mother? Ownership of pets upon separation and divorce.

Tim Whitney