Dogs have long been known as ‘Man’s Best Friend’, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee hubby will get custody of Fido in the event of a marriage breakdown.
The dilemma of who gets the family pet is beyond the grasp of age-old clichés and requires some careful foresight if you want the best chance of maintaining custody of your furry, scaly, or feathered friend after a divorce.
Although most pets are much-loved members of the household, the Family Court regards them rather indifferently.
Unless they are animals that serve a specialist purpose such as breeding, showing or racing, they will most likely be classified as just another item of personal property of little or nominal value.
And like any chattel at the centre of dispute in contested property hearings – cars, furniture, and effects – their ultimate custodian is at the discretion of the Court should the parties not be able to reach a private agreement before hearing.
If you are super attached to the family pet, and can’t imagine single life without them, here are some helpful hints to put yourself in the best position possible:
• Make sure you are the registered owner with your local council.
• Be on the microchip record.
• Be responsible for day-to-day exercise and feeding.
• Be responsible for medical treatment, vaccinations and check-ups at the vet.
• Ensure your post-matrimonial home can accommodate the pet.
There are rare exceptions where these measures can be defeated. One common example is where a child has become extremely close to the pet. In those circumstances, the Court is likely to direct the pet to stay with the child, regardless of whether the parent with primary care of the child wasn’t primarily responsible for the animal during the relationship.
And finally, there’s the question of “shared custody”. Since the pet is treated like any other item of personal property, its ownership or possession is unlikely to be divided. The Court is likely to allocate it to one party. It will then be a matter of choice whether that party agrees to grant their ex-partner “visitation rights”.
Our family law team has addressed the question of what happens to pets amid separation for many, many years. If you are an animal lover and have concerns about a relationship breakdown costing you a cherished companion, please contact us to discuss.