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What happens to your pets if you get divorced?
It is no secret that the UK is a nation of animal lovers, with over half of the population owning a pet. According to a report conducted by Pet Food Manufacturers Association in 2021, there was an estimated 34 million pets across homes in the UK. Many now consider their pets as valued family members and an integral part of family life.
With a significant increase in pet ownership across the UK, there are many questions about where couples stand legally when deciding where their beloved pet should remain.
Who keeps the dog?
The Blue Cross has recorded that four pets are taken into their care every week following relationship breakdowns and that dogs and cats are the most fought-over pets.
The decision of where and who should be responsible for your beloved pet can become highly stressful after a relationship breakdown.
Whilst the Court provide clear guidelines on how the Family Court should deal with matters such as finances, child welfare and arrangements, the UK law does not currently have a provision to deal with family pets. It is therefore preferred by the Court, for separating parties to reach a mutual and amicably agreement regarding the family pets outside of Court.
How does the court decide the ownership of a pet?
If the parties cannot reach a mutual agreement or if it is not appropriate to do so, the Court will treat your beloved pet in the same way they would treat the household contents (e.g a car) after separation. The Court’s will therefore consider the following factors on deciding who should keep the family pet:
- Who bought the pet?
- Was the pet bought during the relationship?
- Where were the parties living together at the time the pet was bought?
- Was the pet bought as a gift?
- Who is registered on the microchip database?
The Court will have regard to the financial aspects and will place limited weight on the pet’s welfare.
How are people preventing disagreements over pets in a divorce?
There has been an increase in ‘pet-nup’ agreements in recent years. This a document that is entered into by both parties setting out the rights of ownership as well as arrangements for the pet’s ongoing care. Agreements regarding the contact and the pet’s expenses will be agreed in this document. Alternatively, parties can put a clause in a pre-nup or a cohabitation agreement as to what should happen to their pet upon separation.
The law does not currently recognise pet-nup’s as being legally binding, however, they are placing increasing weight on such agreements.
A decision for pets in the future?
Currently the Court’s in Alaska and Spain now consider the pet’s welfare and the parties’ ability to look after their pets during divorce proceedings. As a result, this now means that the Court’s in Alaska and Spain have the power to decide where the pet shall remain.
The question is therefore posed, should the UK introduce a statutory provision for family pets?
How can WSP Solicitors help you?
At WSP, we understand the couples facing divorce or separation can be stressful and upsetting time. If you need any advice regarding your beloved pet, divorce or separation please do not hesitate to get in contact.
You can obtain family law advice from our expert team by contacting our local offices in Gloucester or Stroud today at 01453 847200. If you have a question or would like to request a callback, you can also use our quick online enquiry form.