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  • 11 Apr 2024

    Pets and Divorce | What happens to our dog after we separate?

    Its National Pet Day today, which is an annually observed holiday. National Pet Day began in 2006 when Colleen Paige, an animal welfare advocate, set out to raise awareness for shelter animals with three main objectives:

    1. To invite pet owners to celebrate the joy and companionship their furry family members bring to their lives. 
    2. Advocate for the health and safety of rescued and homeless animals.
    3. Encourage the adoption of animals stuck waiting for their forever homes in shelters and rescues.



    With this in mind, it is important to try and minimise legal disputes over family pets on separation and divorce, not only for the welfare of your furry family friend, but also that of yourselves at an already emotional and stressful time.

    The majority of us would consider our pets as part of the family and would treat them like your own children, however the law treats pets in divorce proceedings as a “chattel” (an item of property for example a car or jewellery). 

    It may come as no surprise that the decision as to who gets to keep the pets can become a contested aspect of settlement negotiations when a couple decides to separate or divorce.   

    If you have separated and are able to co-operate with one another, an arrangement that suits the needs of you both and most importantly your pet’s needs can be agreed between you which will ensure that your furry family friend gets the best of both worlds after your divorce. Take the most recent example of TV Presenter Ant McPartlin and his ex-wife, Lisa Armstrong agreeing to share custody of their Labrador dog, Hurley following their divorce. 

    If you cannot agree as to who will keep the family pet, given pets are treated as a chattel, the law says that the person who purchased the pet has the strongest claims on them after a divorce.  This, however, may not always be the case as if the pet was a gift, for example, and if there are children involved and if the primary carer of the pet is not the individual who purchased the pet.

    A court will look at the following factors:

    • Who paid for your family pet as they would usually retain ownership.
    • Whose name your family pet is registered in/microchipped in. 
    • Who pays the vet bills and the upkeep of your pet, such as food and insurance etc
    • Who primarily cares for your pet, takes them on walks etc. 

    Pets are very sensitive to change and will be aware of the tension in the home when you are trying to agree arrangements for them. Changes in living arrangements and their day-to-day routines are likely to upset your pet and their behaviour may change as a consequence. 

    It is important to remember that whatever decisions are made about your family pet, that you put your pets welfare first which will help keep disruption to a minimum.

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