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Can I keep our family pet in a divorce?

07 May 2021 |

“Can I keep our family pet?” is often one of the first questions we are asked as divorce lawyers. Expert family law specialist Jennifer Hargreaves explains the rules.

We are a nation of animal lovers with an estimated 17 million of us owning pets, and I’m one of them, I have a Chihuahua/Yorkie cross called Bentley who is 3.5kg of pure personality!  During recent lockdowns in the UK, it is estimated that 3.2 million pets have found new homes during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Celebrity divorce and pets

In a recent settlement, presenter Ant McPartlin and his ex-wife Lisa Armstrong had come to a shared custody agreement over their chocolate Labrador Hurley as part of their divorce settlement. And they are not the first celebrity couple to have disputed over their pets during separation: back in 2016, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard had also gone to Court over their two Yorkshire Terriers, Pistol and Boo, during their split.

But it’s not just celebrities who include pets in their divorce proceedings. For many people pets are an important part of the family and the thought of parting ways can be very distressing. It is not uncommon for lengthy disputes to arise when it comes to deciding where the family pet should live.

Divorce and mediation

If you are unable to come to an agreement over who your family pet should live with your first step should be to seek legal advice. Mediation will be your initial option and we can advise you on this, recommending local mediators.

If mediation does not resolve the dispute you will need to make an application to the Court for a Judge to make the decision. This can be done as part of the financial remedy process or an application to the Small Claims Court.

It may surprise you to hear that the family Court will treat a dispute over pets in the same way they would deal with chattels e.g., furniture, cars etc. It could simply come down to whose money was used to purchase the pet, whether the pet was a gift, who is the principal carer for the animal and who has financially maintained the pet. The Court has the discretion to decide who receives the asset in the same way as other assets like the family home and pensions. The Court does not have the power to make a Contact Order, but if it decides that the pet is jointly owned it can order shared ownership.   

Hindsight is a wonderful thing! If you want to protect the ownership of your pets in the future, the best way would be to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement or a cohabitation agreement (if you are not married). The agreement would be able to set out who the pet belongs to and who they should live with should the relationship come to an end.

Specialist divorce advice

Let’s talk. If you have concerns about a separation of divorce and would like advice in relation to pets or any other aspect of the process, please contact Jennifer Hargreaves by calling 0117 906 9400 or email hello@gl.law

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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