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Who gets the dog on divorce?

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When facing divorce, one of the most acrimonious issues for couples can be the division of assets moving forward, especially when it comes to any beloved pet. In fact, battles over pets are becoming increasingly common.

Below we look at the rules relating to pet’s when couples divorce, in particular, how any disagreement as to ownership will be dealt with, and what factors the court may take into account when a dispute arises as to “who gets the dog”.

What are the rules relating to pets?

For many, the idea of their pet dog or cat, or indeed any other domesticated animal, being treated as legal property may seem a little strange, especially when these animals are often perceived by their owners as close family members. In England and Wales, however, the law essentially considers a pet to be what’s known as a chattel, ie; a tangible and moveable asset.

This means, at least in theory, that a pet will be treated like any other item of personal property on divorce, such as a car or a piece of jewellery. This also means that there is no specific legislative provision to deal with a dispute about who the pet should live with.  

How do the courts deal with pet issues with a divorcing couple?

Unfortunately, there is very little case law on arrangements that address the issue of pets within financial proceedings following a divorce.

In the case of RK v RK [2011] EWHC 3910 (Fam), the wife made a claim to the family dog within the context of her overall financial claim. The court reaffirmed that animals are akin to personal property. In that case, the Judge ordered the dog to stay with the husband, as he had been principally responsible for the dog’s care.

Arguably, this could suggest a slight shift towards the courts recognising pets as living and emotional property, where a judge may be influenced by factors including, for example, the emotional bond between pet and primary carer.

That said, especially where an animal has significant financial value, and even more so where an income is derived from breeding a pedigree pet, any sympathy that the court may otherwise have for either party is unlikely to prevail over property law considerations when considering a fair financial outcome.

How should a pet dispute be handled?

If agreement cannot be reached between a divorcing couple as to the living arrangements for any pets, there remains every possibility that any animal will merely be viewed as personal property by the courts, to be factored into an overall financial settlement, without regard to the emotional attachment of either party or the special social status that pets are given by their owners.

It is therefore always best to reach an amicable agreement when it comes to pet’s, ideally with the help of an expert legal advisor or mediator.

For more information, or if you want to organise a free, initial no obligation consultation, please telephone Rowlinsons Solicitors on 01928 735333 and ask to speak to the Family Department.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained herein are intended to be for general information purposes only. This blog does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law and should not be treated as such.

Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.