As a nation of animal-lovers, it is perhaps not surprising that nearly half of us would be prepared to argue about custody of the family pet in a divorce settlement, with 57% of women stating they would be prepared to fight for their pet compared to only 37% of men.
Certainly, we have seen a distinct increase in the number of disputes over pets over the last 5 years.
For many of us, pets are simply part of the family, for some, the equivalent of a surrogate child. Disputes about their future in a divorce settlement adds another layer of stress to an already difficult time and can complicate divorce proceedings (in some instances bringing them to a standstill and resulting in costly legal bills). In the vast majority of cases, unlike other assets, they are worth very little, and in fact will end up costing their eventual carer money in terms of vets bills, food and insurance.
Pets as property
Where couples cannot reach an agreement, they should be aware that in UK law pets are regarded as chattels or property. Like every other aspect of the divorce process, it is always better to try and reach an agreement outside of Court, rather than risk an expensive and protracted legal hearing to determine who will eventually keep the family pet.
In cases where no agreement can be reached, it’s reassuring to know that although pets are akin to property in the eyes of the law, in practice most UK Courts will take a much more pragmatic and intelligent view and try to make sure the pet stays with the person who has cared for it most in the past, and is best set up to look after it in the future. The position may only differ if the animal has considerable financial value or earning power, for example a breeding pedigree dog, or a race horse.
If you would like to get in touch with Jolene Hutchison, Partner and Head of Family and Divorce, please contact her on 01494 478603 or email firstname.lastname@example.org