Pets & Divorce

Divorce can be an extremely stressful and emotional time, and this can be even more so when a beloved pet is involved. For those of you who have pets you’ll know that they are more than just that, they are part of your family.

When a marriage breaks down there are often disputes as to who keeps the furry friend, and this can result in long drawn out Court proceedings, this has even been seen in the news lately with Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong,  who are currently sharing custody of their beloved Labrador, Hurley. It’s anticipated that this will become a contentious issue as it’s been reported that Ant is seeking full ownership of Hurley. Experts have stated that Ant has a much stronger bond to Hurley, therefore he should have full ownership as this is in Hurley’s best interests. So what happens to your beloved pet when you divorce and how is this decided?

The law treats pets as personal belongings and therefore the Court will view them in the same way as for example furniture and jewellery. If the two parties can’t come to an agreement between themselves in relation to furniture or pets, then the Court will determine how this should be resolved. Many people disagree with pets being treated as personal belongings as they are living creatures capable of developing a strong emotional bond with their owners. In some cases it’s been shown that when an animal is separated from their owner for a period of time, they will show extreme distress and anxiety.

The Courts have the power to determine ownership of pets in cases where there is a disagreement. The ultimate power the Judge has is to order a transfer of ownership, including pedigree paperwork if relevant. It’s also possible for the Judge to direct whether or not the other party should spend time with the pet. The Court may adopt a shared custody approach. When determining as to whom the pet should reside with, the Court will look at a variety of factors, including but not limited to who purchased the pet and any contributions towards their maintenance. It is often the case that the Court will have to hear submissions from the parties as to their reasons for wanting to retain ownership. It will also be taken into account each parties capability in meeting the pet’s needs. Despite the Court having the power to grant such orders, it is not uncommon for Judges to be reluctant in making an order as it is deemed more important to focus on the main financial assets. As such, it is advisable to attend Mediation first in an attempt to try and resolve any dispute regarding your pets.

So are there ways to ensure that you retain ownership of your pet in the unfortunate event your marriage breaks down? You can enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, stating what shall happen to the pet in the event the marriage breaks down. If there is still a dispute then the Judge will consider the pre-nuptial agreement and decide whether to hold the parties to that or to make another Order taking into account all of the circumstances.

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