62% of households in the UK are now pet owners, so it is no surprise that one of the most common questions relating to divorce is: “what happens to the dog?”. This is an even more pertinent question following the rise of dog purchases during the Covid19 pandemic to accompany us on our one walk a day.
This article is based on English Law and all aspects of your divorce should be discussed with your solicitor.
Pet owners will be saddened to hear that, in the eyes of the law, our furry friends are treated in the same way as the kitchen table; as “chattels”, or personal possessions. Unlike some other countries, our pets’ feelings are not taken into account when deciding their future living arrangements.
The legal team at divorce specialists Rayden Solicitors have even seen instances where parties can become so desperate to keep the pet from the other party that they will resort to attempted ‘pet-napping’.
Who decides where your pet lives?
Hopefully the owners. The first step is for joint pet owners to try and reach an agreement as to who keeps the pet. One arrangement could be that the pet lives with a primary household and then visits the other party’s household on agreed days. Although this could be tricky when it comes to fish. There is also the option of shared care.
If an agreement cannot be reached then the Court does have the power to step in and decide what happens to the pet, as they can with household items. However, with Court resources being ever stretched, this should be seen as a last resort. Particularly as this could turn out to be a very costly process. If the Court does have to make the decision, they will look at various factors including:
- Who purchased the pet;
- Who the pet is registered to;
- Who takes primary care of the pet;
- Who pays for the pet’s expenses, including insurance; and
- Whose name is the pet registered under at the vets.
Pet-Nups and other doggy dispute resolution
Pet owners should be considering what would happen to their pet if there is a relationship breakdown. Separation and divorce are emotionally taxing and difficult enough without adding the extra heartache of fighting over the family pet.
One solution is to enter into a “Pet-Nup” which is an agreement that sets out what would happen to the pet if parties separate. It can cover issues such as who bears financial responsibility and what to do if future disputes arise. This can be in the form of a stand-alone agreement or tied into a larger Pre-Nuptial, Post-Nuptial or Cohabitation Agreement.
If a dispute has already arisen and parties are finding it difficult to reach an agreement on their own, then mediation may be a helpful option. A third party, independent mediator can help parties have productive discussions about the pet and the practicalities of future arrangements. Any decisions made can later be turned into a formal agreement.
The future of pet-owning
This year has been an important year for our beloved animals as they are now classed as sentient beings under the new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. It is now recognised in law that animals experience feelings such as pain and joy which is aimed to improve standards and eliminate cruel practices. In light of this, it is yet to be seen whether the family courts will adopt a similar approach when it comes to the recognition of pets and their status within a family home. A balance must be struck between classing pets as living beings and not opening the floodgates to unnecessary lengthy litigation.
Although pets are seen as chattels in family law, we all know how special pets are in our lives and homes. Focusing on reaching an agreement that works for all parties is the best way to ensure that not only family members are kept happy but also our furry friends.
By Nicola Caffery, Rayden Solicitors