For some people, the title of this article will raise an eyebrow and they will wonder why on earth people spend money on lawyers to try to agree what will happen to the dog after separation or divorce. Others will avidly read the article to find out what might happen to their dog if they ever divorce or separate from their partner.
For many people, their pets are their focus outside their work. They may treat their pets like they would their children and for some people, “who gets the dog?” will be one of the first questions they ask when they take legal advice.
In the eyes of the law, pets are chattels – much like the contents of the house or personal possessions. Proof of ownership will need to be considered. Who purchased the pet? Who pays for the food and insurance? Pets are sometimes given as gifts and in that situation, if there is clear evidence that the pet was gifted, ownership will have been transferred to the beneficiary of the gift. In some cases, it is clear who purchased the pet but in others this can be difficult to ascertain. Sometime pets are purchased from joint funds, and in that situation a future owner will need to be determined.
Who it is that will be able to best provide for the dog may be a consideration. If one party is moving into an apartment with no garden and they work long hours, or frequently have to work away from home while the other party will be living in the countryside with a large garden, you would hope that the parties would take a pragmatic view and make a decision based on the pet’s welfare. If pets were bought for the benefit of children then it is quite possible that they will remain with the main carer of the children.
Where parties cannot agree, mediation may be the best way to resolve the dispute. If an agreement cannot be reached and the parties sensibly do not want to go to court to resolve matters, arbitration could provide a solution. In arbitration a third party will consider both parties arguments and will then give a binding decision about who will own the pet going forward.
What about shared care?
Some people hope that they will be able to agree a pattern of shared care with the ex-partner. There is no law governing the sharing of care of pets as there is for children. Therefore, this will only work if both parties agree. For many people, this arrangement will not work – and it may not be in their best interests emotionally or in the best interests of their pet. Consideration should also be given to who will pay vets bills and maintenance costs. There is no ‘Pet Maintenance Service’ like the Child Maintenance Service through which financial support can be claimed.
Could a ‘Pet-Nup’ be the answer?
Increasingly, family lawyers are being asked to ask to include provisions in Pre-Nuptial agreements relating to pets, and in some cases the pets are the sole subject of the pre-nup. The advantage of a ‘pet-nup’ is that the parties will have the opportunity to consider what should happen to pets if they separate without any high emotions or feelings of revenge clouding their view after separation.
The law governing the division of assets on divorce for married couples is different from the law that applies to un-married couples. If this issue is something which may apply to you, you should take legal advice to find out which factors will be considered in your case.