If I Separate From My Partner, How Do I Keep Our Pet?
The Dogs Trust conducted a survey in which it was revealed that a quarter of all separating couples believe their dog would be the most important consideration if they separated. Hopefully, these couples do not have children.
However, what will happen to a co-owned pet can be an extremely difficult issue to resolve when a couple splits – especially if there are other difficulties surrounding the separation.
Today at Unlock the Law we take a look at how the law treats pets for purposes of separation, and also provide guidance on what you can do to ensure you stay close to your beloved - after you split from your partner.
How does the law treat pets in divorce or separation in the UK?
UK law treats pets in the same way as inanimate objects such as cars or other personal items. However, in many relationships, both parties and also their children feel an incredible closeness and love for the family pet. This can result in drawn out legal battles over who gets to keep them.
If you are getting divorced from your partner, the Court may be able to decide who will get to keep the family pet. If the family pet is an area of contention, the court will make a decision to break the deadlock between parties. For example, if you have a dog, the court may order transfer of ownership or pedigree paper the same way they would for land or any other inanimate item.
The court may also make provision for the costs of upkeep of the animal when calculating income needs of the party keeping the pet. This could include things such as kennel space and gardens for dogs, vet bills or even land for horses. This will be considered as part of the overall financial award given from one party to the other.
UK law does not make any provision for how a court will decide who gets to keep the family pet. However the main factor which may contribute to their decision will be who devoted the most time to caring for the pet. In a 2011 case, a judge refused to make an order for transfer of the family dog to the wife in a divorce case as the dog had principally been looked after by the husband.
Pet Custody If You’re Not Married
If you are not married, a court may make the decision on strictly legal principles – the pet belongs to the person who paid for it. If you paid for the dog you can evidence this to the court through receipts and invoices or any Kennel Club registration you may have.
What can I do to ensure I will get to keep my pet?
Some judges are reluctant to make an order regarding pets, and will not spend a lot of court time hearing evidence relating to which party should be allowed to keep the family pet – they feel financial arrangements and/or child arrangements are much more pressing matters. However, for many the family pet is a cherished member of the family and the most important issue in separation.
Pets in Prenuptial Agreements
The easiest way to avoid any difficulty or contention is to pre-empt the problem. It is possible to enter into a co-habitation agreement (if you do not intend to marry) or a pre-nuptial agreement (if you are to marry). This agreement will set out any arrangements for care of the family pet, including who they belong to and who they will live with should the relationship come to an end.
The agreement may even provide for visitation or that you each have custody of the dog in some way as you would a child. However, this may not be for the best depending on how the relationship ends between you and your partner.
Custody of a Pet after Divorce or Separation
To find out more about co-parenting a pet after a divorce or separation, including how to create a parenting plan for your dog, read What about Wally? Co-Parenting a Pet with Your Ex from an expert US Judge.
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