I have had dogs all my adult life, they are a constant and loveable addition to any family, but when I am out walking nowadays I see more and more dogs, particularly since we went into lockdown and thousands of families decided to expand their family with a furry friend, whether that was a dog, cat or guinea pig.
But when a relationship breaks down, the issue of who keeps the pet can be difficult to agree. Who will have the cat? Who pays the vet bills, insurance or food?
Under English law they are treated as a “chattel”, placed into the same category as the sofa or television no matter how much affection you feel for your four legged friend. English law has not caught up with other jurisdictions where pets are specifically mentioned as something other than a chattel, with the pet’s welfare being a consideration when deciding which party it should remain with.
We do have laws protecting the welfare of an animal which require their living conditions are suitable but these are not applied in Family Law.
Arguing through a lawyer about who gets the dog can be costly – most people are not as rich as Ant (of Ant and Dec) and his ex-wife Lisa who famously agree a shared “custody” arrangement for their chocolate lab Harley – but most people agree that a pet is flesh and blood and that its welfare and feelings cannot be ignored. What if the children are particularly attached to the pet – will you separate them from something that will provide emotional support at a difficult time?
So what can you do? You can try to negotiate directly with your ex-partner, or if that is not possible or does not resolve things, you can try family mediation. A lawyer could write to your ex-partner setting out your position and the issues and seek an agreement. Only as a last resort should you involve the court.
The court can hear arguments about chattels, including the family pet, but this can be costly, time consuming and disproportionate if it is the only issue. The courts take a variety of approaches, often looking at factual matters such as who paid for it particularly if you were not married, who is the registered owner, who pays the insurance. An argument that the pet should remain with the children could be put forward as taking the children’s welfare into consideration.
A pet can be included in a Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Whilst a “Pet-Nup” may not be binding, it can be taken into account when dividing the assets on divorce or separation. Be creative about a resolution – shared care; make provision for a financial contribution to the outgoings such as food and insurance; agree that it will always be wherever the children are.
Why not speak to one of our experienced Family Lawyers at Biscoes to discuss entering a Pre-Nuptial, Post-Nuptial or Cohabitation Agreement - and consider making provision for the pet! Contact the team on 0800 413 463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org