Who gets the dog (or any family pet) can be an emotive issue when going through a separation. Recently, we have noticed an increase in enquiries from clients who are separating from their partner in relation to the rights to a family pet. This is often a dog although it could be another animal.
The law views a pet as an item of property. Sometimes this sits uncomfortably with the owners who may have a strong emotional attachment to their pet.
If the parties have children, the children may also have a strong emotional attachment to a pet. This can affect the way that one or other of the parties views the pet.
There have been several cases recently where the issue of ownership of dogs has been a question that has had to be determined by a court. Often the cost of court proceedings will far outweigh the value of the animal. Such is the emotional attachment to the dog that sometimes parties are prepared to spend significant sums on litigating in relation to a pet.
Ownership is key
Generally speaking, the person who keeps the pet following a separation will be the person who can establish that they own the pet. This can be established by:
- production of a contract for the purchase of the dog,
- evidence that one party paid for the dog,
- registration with the Kennel Club,
- evidence that vet bills have been paid by one party, and
- evidence that the dog is registered with one party with the vet.
Some of these will not be determinative on their own but several of these factors together may persuade a court that a particular party owns the dog. Any such records should therefore be kept in the event that such a dispute is likely.
Other factors to consider
When parties separate it is often the case that one or both parties move into alternative rented accommodation. Some landlords will not allow pets and therefore this may have a bearing on who can retain a pet on separation. Parties should also consider carefully who is in a position to properly care for the animal.
We have several clients who have entered into shared care arrangements regarding pets on separation. Sometimes agreements are reached whereby the pet will move between the two parties and provision will be made for the sharing of the expense involved in caring for the animal, such as food, dog walker costs, insurance and vet bills.
Most separating parties are able to come to reasonable agreements in relation to pets and mostly people who have pets want to ensure on separation that the animals will be properly cared for. Where agreement is not possible you should consult a lawyer who will advise you on your rights.
If you need advice on separating, contact our Family Law team to discuss your situation.
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